Band Talk, June 2009 June 22 2009, 2 Comments

The Bandmaster Files Jack Kopstein

1. Executive Demands
Military directors and bandmasters are often faced with nearly impossible tasks to provide music almost in an instant. As a former bandmaster, I can vouch for the difficulties associated with music requests on impulse. On one occasion I was requested on a slip of paper passed to me while performing with a small dinner group in the officers mess to play the tune "Drop me Jesus through the Goal Post of Life©" by country artist Bobby Bare. Fortunately, one of the musicians in the group knew the tune and within a few minutes he had one-fingered the tune on the piano. We quickly wrote down the simple 3/4 melody and a few chords, and I sat down and scored it out for our small seven piece group on some scrap manuscript paper. We blared it out to the officers who were dining in the main dining room on the next set. They applauded as if we had played Beethoven's ninth, and I had a great laugh with the musicians. The great John Philip Sousa no less had a similar request by the President of the United States when he was the leader of the United States Marine Band. President Chester Arthur handed Sousa a request while the band was playing at the White House. The President announced to Sousa that a professional dancer from Spain was to entertain the invited guests for a dinner. She would dance to the "Cachuca," a word that was scribbled on a piece of paper. Sousa responded that he did not have the music for the tune, but the President replied to Sousa by saying, "Well, Sousa, I thought you could play anything," and returned to his guests. Sousa was dismayed by the request because he felt it his duty to honour all Presidential wishes when one of his musicians, a cornetist, rose quickly and declared that he knew the tune and played it softly for bandmaster Sousa. He immediately sat down and wrote out several main parts for trumpet, clarinet, and saxophone and told the rest of the band to vamp, meaning of course to just play the chord tones. Thus the piece was scored on the spot. The Spanish dancer appeared and moved to center floor, and the band burst forth confidently with the tune, both bcoming instant hits. The American composer Meredith Wilson was a member of the Sousa band in the 1920's. His wonderful musical 'The Music Man" gave him an opportunity to introduce some of Sousa lore into his production, and as a result the "Cachuca" "was used as a dance number in the stage version.

2.National Anthem Debacles and Grace-Saving Events

It was only last year that a bandmaster in Grenada became confused about the national anthem of the Peoples Republic of China and the Taiwanese national anthem, "The Republic of China."

Prime Minister Keith Mitchell promised an investigation into the diplomatic incident, in which the Taiwanese national anthem was played at the official handing over of the Chinese-funded national stadium. The gaffe by the Royal Grenada Police Force Band caused deep embarrassment to officials of the government and the Chinese ambassador and other representatives who attended the ceremony on Saturday. A most unfortunate incident Mr. Pierre called it a most unfortunate incident which had left the country's prime minister and the police commissioner with 'egg on their faces.' But there were harsher comments from Grenadians on the streets. One man told BBC Caribbean, "I'm not accepting any apology from the police force; this is a sabotage by the police,," and another woman observed, "Whether it was sabotage or mixup, I think it's distasteful." The police received some support when one man insisted that they shouldn't be made a scapegoat: "Somebody gave the police the national anthem to practice." Correct anthem played eventually The correct Chinese anthem was played after Saturday's ceremony to hand over the US $40 million facility which will host matches of the cricket world cup which starts next month. China does not recognise Taiwan as an independent country, regarding it instead as a renagade breakaway province. The two have played out their diplomatic struggle in the Caribbean, and Grenada had again switched their support. They resumed diplomatic relations with Beijing in 2005, breaking off a 15-year relationship with Taiwan. Prime Minister apologises Dr. Mitchell, who alerted the hundreds of invited guests at the ceremony to the mistake, said it saddened a happy moment. "On behalf of the Government and people of this very happy country, a country that recognizes the warmth of its friends and respect its friends, I deeply apologize to the Chinese Ambassador and the entire Chinese people," Dr. Mitchell said. The Colonel Bogey Fiasco Programmes of music by bands often have to be clearly thought out . This is particularly important when a guest is from a foreign country. It is even more important as well if the country was a war time enemy. On May 5, 1980, a top-ranking visitor from Japan came to Canada on a formal visit. Everything went well until the Japanese minister agreed to a special arrival at the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. The military band selected for the occasion marched from the east gate and proceeded to play the COLONEL BOGEY march by Kenneth J Alford. Here is the article which appeared in numerous newspapers in North America

If Japanese Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira was offended, he didn't show it. But Canadian officials were red-faced when the armed forces marching band greeted. Ohira in Ottawa with the "Colonel Bogey March," the tune whistled by defiant British prisoners of war captured by the Japanese in the film "Bridge Oa the River Kwai." Ohira had not yet arrived yesterday for the ceremonies on Parliament Hill when the band began to play, but assembled Japanese dignitaries heard strains of the march. "We are extremely embarrassed," an armed forces spokesman said. "In the long, meticulous planning for this visit, this particular portion slipped by." The Japanese delegation has said nothing about the incident, the Canadian spokesman added.

If you are a band director with a story, please contact us. Names of the bands and the band directors will be edited out. All information is subject to editing for length and content. We will not add your name to the article unless you want it to appear.