Superintendant Bramwell Smith March 18 2014, 0 Comments
Contributed by Jack Kopstein
Bramwell Smith, left Ottawa as a young man to join the world renowned United States Marine Band. Over the years, he had many, many achievements to his credit. He had an impressive solo trumpet career and he went on to form the Marine Herald Trumpets. He was one of the few trumpet soloists in the world who had mastered the continuous breathing technique in his playing. He had several recording successes to his credit. His proudest achievement was to write, arrange and perform the music for the Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. 'Bram' as he was known, engaged in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as a Constable in September 1967. He was promoted to Staff Sergeant a month later and then he received his Commission to Inspector about five months later. He was again promoted to Superintendent. After Bram's arrival in Ottawa, it didn't take long for members of the RCMP Band to see what a wonderful and exciting talent he was, both as a performer and leader of a musical group. However, not everyone in the band readily accepted him. They found the change in musical direction somewhat abrupt and somewhat beyond what they were prepared to support. As a result some members left the Band. Other musicians stayed with the Band because the more it changed into a "dynamic" sounding concert unit, combining old band repertoires with new upbeat renditions, the more popular and appealing the Band became. Under Bram's direction, the RCMP Band evolved and became more entertaining for both young and old audiences alike. Bram strongly felt that music should serve all ages but in particular it should reach young people. His style of music became a very strong and successful recruiting aid for the Force. School programs across Canada were an instant hit. Untold wonderful comments were received about the Band’s effectiveness in Drug Awareness Programs and fundraising programs in the community. Bram's sparkling personality shone across the stage footlights and Canadian audiences loved their own "Memorable Music Man Mountie"! He earned the nickname "Captain Colgate" because of his engaging smile.
It wasn't long before the Band put out its first recording, Dynamic Sound. Bram encouraged RCMP members with musical talent to come up with new musical arrangements. In this way, he brought in new musical ideas and styles especially written for the band’s instrumentation. Here again, he had a unique sound in his mind and it wasn't long before he had several RCMP members producing new arrangements that were the envy of other bands in Canada and in the USA. At Bram's instigation, the band was invited to play at several international gigs including the Hemisfair in San Antonio, Texas in 1968, the World Fair in Osaka, Japan in 1970, and the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, MA. Other memorable performances included a TV Christmas Special with the Girls’ Choir from St. F.X. University and the opening of the Larsen Building in Yellowknife. The RCMP received incredible international exposure through his efforts. As RCMP Vets, we recall performing the Waltz from the Swan Lake Ballet for a performance by the National Ballet Company. Under Bram's guidance, we rehearsed and played and then did take after take until we thought everyone in the Band might all say to hell with it . But, Bram was after perfection and without any hesitation we can say the final cut was as good as has ever been recorded by a concert band! He thought that, in addition to touring Canada and abroad, that the band should be recording more and doing more radio and TV broadcasting. We seized every opportunity to do so. At the same time, we continued to provide "a public relations and ceremonial service for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and for Canada”. Under Bram's direction, the RCMP Band became a very highly skilled group of musicians, with an exceptional variety of stand up soloists on a number of instruments. Our programs were more than just musical entertainment; the Band took on a ‘professional show biz’ kind of aura that made the RCMP Band stand out as, "one of the most professional and finest Bands of its kind in the world." (Centennial Review Script). As Music Director, Bram believed in musical excellence and would settle for nothing less. Bram Smith was a very intense and professional person. He put every ounce of energy into conducting a concert and he was left exhausted after each performance. Regularly, at the end of a performance, our Director would take the microphone and tell the audience that we were performing to support the operational members who work in their community 365 days a year. He always thanked the community for the support they gave our RCMP members all year round. His remarks to the public were quite remarkable because they came from a man who had never taken a day of police training or done a day of policing. He considered the RCMP in the field to be the band’s No. 1 customers. The band performed for them, supporting them and their Public Relations and Police Community Relations Programs. We can vouch that his music could bring a tear to the eye of many a hard-nosed operational police officer. Deep down every musician knew that Detachment men and women appreciated and admired his remarkable musical talents and his fun with a youthful audience. The Queen insisted that the band be included in the Royal Visit to Calgary and Depot Division in Regina. Commissioner Higgitt was overheard saying, "The RCMP could have toured the entire world with the band!" Following the Centennial Review in 1973 the Band went back to the regular schedule of tours. At this time, several contentious issues arose, including the Saul Study of the RCMP Band & Musical Ride. Our Director tried to keep focused on the music, however; we knew that Bram was not happy any longer. It seemed like he had achieved all that he wanted to accomplish and was looking for new challenges elsewhere. Come to think of it, during his life he had moved several times to meet new challenges in music. Bram's promotion to the Commission ranks upset many senior Officers in the Force and he felt this undeserved irritation for many years. On one occasion, he authorized the purchase of a contrabass clarinet, but a purchasing officer sent him a tuba! One can imagine his many frustrations but in the end he finally received the clarinet. Yet, he also had a great sense of laughter. One night after a performance in St. John’s we went out for dinner. A Newfoundlander recognized him from the concert stage and asked: “Are you the corporal?”. Bram laughed so hard we though he would roll on the floor. Bram announced his retirement in the National Arts Centre at one of his final public concerts as conductor. He seemed to be artistically and emotionally exhausted. He left the Force in the spring of 1974. He was hired by Yamaha Music Co. and he became their Leading Salesman.
We gave him our full support without any hesitation, which at times got us into hot water. But we didn't mind because we knew that we were a damn good outfit, and the RCMP deserved the best that we could be, and nothing less! He built the RCMP Band into one of the best in the world. We give a tip of our Stetson to RCMP Superintendent Bramwell Smith, RCMP Band Director 1967 to 1974. Bram was a special person: a very talented musician, a dynamic leader and a gifted conductor. He did a great job of bringing the RCMP Band to a higher level in every respect. We proudly and fondly remember him. Unfortunately, his success in the music world was shortened by cancer. After several years in remission, the cancer returned and he wasn't able to meet the challenge. Shortly after Bram’s death, the US Marines asked to have his remains interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
Photos at Arlington Cemetery (2008) by Joe Healy, Reg,#23685 Photos of Superintendent Smith and he and the Band were kindly provided by Ottawa Vet Garth Hampson and courtesy of the Historical Collections Unit at 'Depot' Division. March 2013 by Ottawa Veterans Dan Carroll and Garth Hampson