Nanaimo Concert Band is gearing up, seeking audience members and collecting relics for its 150th birthday celebration this month.
Although it has performed under different names, Nanaimo Concert Band has performed continuously for the past century and a half, and according to Shari and John Barker, band historian and president, respectively, that makes it the longest-running concert band in B.C. and possibly the country.
The band will commemorate its sesquicentennial with a concert at the Port Theatre on Sunday, April 10.
The genesis of the band dates back to 1872, when St. Paul’s Anglican Church minister Rev. James Reynard, transferred from Barkerville, suggested formation of a brass band for Nanaimo. Its first performance took place May 24, 1873, for the Queen’s birthday and players from the United Kingdom were largely recruited.
“Basically, when Nanaimo became a coal mining town, it was 1852, they had colliery bands for every town and Nanaimo didn’t have one,” said Shari.
She said Reynard played piano and cornet, and Nanaimo’s first mayor, Mark Bate, was also a cornet player and another one of the band’s initial members.
“As they needed musicians, they would literally send mail off to England [asking to find] a trumpet player or a euphonium player, literally bring him out here, would guarantee him a job, find them a place to live and he’s in the band and would bring his instrument,” Shari said.
The current edition of the band is composed of wind, brass and percussion players.
The Barkers have been with the band for 40 years and say there have been some noteworthy performances over the years including Expo 86, a gold-medal win at national competition in Ottawa in 2001 and a trip to Barkerville in 2004 for a celebration for Reynard.
Nanaimo Concert Band has a collection of numerous historical items and know there are more, given the band’s 150 years of existence. Some members have died and their relatives might not be aware that an item they’re throwing out is significant, said Shari.
“We’ve heard (people say), ‘Oh, I had one of the old uniforms. We threw that out,’ and it’s like, ‘Seriously?’ We’d hate to see it thrown out because we actually have a really amazing archives,” said Shari. “We do put it on display and the public gets to see it, we get to see it and they’re cared for … we want to show the public our history and make sure Nanaimo knows about it.”
The group has performed under several monikers including the Nanaimo Brass Band, Silver Cornet Prize Band and Nanaimo Concert Band name since 1950.
“The band, way back, was such a huge part of the community because there was no TV, no record players and all that sort of thing. So the band provided the music for the community and they played just about every Sunday … it was such an enormous part of the community back then and we wish we still were,” John said with a laugh. “It’s grown so much and times have changed, but we still enjoy the support.”
As part of sesquicentennial celebrations, the City of Nanaimo will light up the Bastion in gold and burgundy, Nanaimo Concert Band colours, from Friday, April 1 through April 14.
The anniversary concert takes place at the Port Theatre on Sunday, April 10, at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $16 and can be purchased by calling 250-754-8550 or going to www.porttheatre.com.
For more information about the band, go to www.nanaimoconcertband.com.
Anyone with old uniforms or other Nanaimo Concert Band memorabilia is asked to e-mail email@example.com.