NORTH DELTA â€” Stroll into the music room at North Delta Secondary and you can see what these guys and girls are up against.
Over there is a dude with a tuba. Heâ€™s mashed between a flock of guitar amps and some really big drums, with scarcely enough space to rest his 30-pound beast on the floor between tunes.
In front, thereâ€™s a row of women playing concert flutes â€“ and trying their level best not to stab each other in the ear. Death by flute. Frightening.
The clarinets are claustrophobic, the saxophones are saxo-squished, and donâ€™t even get me started on the havoc wreaked by several fully extended trombones.
Add an annoying photographer to the mayhem, forcing himself into non-existent spaces just to get the shot, and weâ€™re one misstep from a tragic episode of musician dominoes.
Clearly itâ€™s time, yet again, for the 45-member nomadic ensemble known as Delta Concert Band to switch up its rehearsal space.
Founded in 1964 and with roots extending even further into the past, DCB is no newcomer. Indeed, with numerous awards to its credit throughout the years, and sporting a justified reputation for high musical standards in a region brimming with contenders, it has long been the preferred destination for a bunch of top-flight South Fraser musicians.
The result is a supremely tight and dynamic sound where off-notes are ridiculously rare and versatility is the name of the game. Watch them closely and youâ€™ll see various members change instruments mid-tune, or maybe add hand-claps or knee-slaps where appropriate.
And these guys and gals are adaptable. Seriously adaptable. There was a wide variety of music on the menu during a recent Tuesday-evening rehearsal, and president/bass trombonist Brian Lewis sums it up succinctly: â€œYou name it, we play it.â€
The band, which Lewis says distinguishes itself from an orchestra because â€œclarinets and saxophones take the place of a string section,â€ has long been part of the Delta/Surrey fabric. They play regularly at events, solo shows and music festivals throughout the region and offer a home to musicians who love their craft, but may not have a place to ply it after high school and college have ended.
But thereâ€™s certainly no ageism here. Ample proof: one of the current members is just 17 and still attending high school, while another is in his early 80s and hasnâ€™t suffered through a high school class since 1953 or so.
Put it all together and you have an entity seemingly deserving of a roomy and permanent place to practice their chops. But that hasnâ€™t been a particularly easy quest. According to Jim Tempest, the bandâ€™s music director, â€œWeâ€™ve moved four times since I arrived on the scene in 2006. And weâ€™re not talking just people either. We have more than 25 cabinets of music and all that gear, too. The percussion aloneâ€¦.â€
Tempest cites several factors, including, he says, the Corporation of Deltaâ€™s decision to raise rates in its community centres. â€œOur group was one of many that just left.â€
There is, however, a ray of light on the horizon â€“ a ray of light with potential spin-off benefits.
Says Tempest, â€œSunbury Hall (located just north of Nordel Way) is pretty much empty. We suggested (to Delta Parks and Rec) that perhaps a good use would be for us to move in (and) maybe form what could become a community music centre. Thereâ€™s nothing like that in Delta.â€
TRIAL RUN AT SUNBURY HALL
On Tuesday (March 17), the potential new arrangement kicks off with a trial-run rehearsal at Sunbury Hall.
â€œAnd if that works out,â€ says Lewis, â€œweâ€™ll probably move there permanently next September.â€
One thing is certain: A probable move and a typically busy spring and summer season arenâ€™t the only items on the immediate DCB agenda. Not by a long shot.
The gang, you see, is also prepping for what Tempest says is â€œthe first major concert tour for this group in 20 or 30 years.â€
The bad news? You wonâ€™t get to see it. The good news? People halfway around the world will.
It is, says Miranda Doherty, flute and piccolo player and chief tour organizer, â€œa way to celebrate what makes us Canadian.â€
Tempest adds, â€œAs a military musician representing Canada whoâ€™s performed there before, I know the response weâ€™re going to get.â€
It is a 10-day trek through virtually every important battle zone associated with the Liberation of Europe during the Second World War, including Ypres, Juno Beach, Arnhem and more. Canadians played a monster role then, and theyâ€™ll play a big role once again when the 70th anniversary of the liberation is marked; DCB will perform there at key ceremonies during the first two weeks of May.
Members of the band are both thrilled and humbled to be part of the event, but the opportunity holds extra meaning for some.
One is Doherty, whose husbandâ€™s uncle was killed by a sniper in Holland. His name was Ronald Doherty. He was just 19. And she has some strong feelings on the war and our commemoration of it.
â€œIâ€™m a history buff. To be right there and see where Canadian and Allied forces were fighting means a lot,â€ Doherty said.
â€œBut to see that people thousands of miles away take more time with our Canadians who died and were buried there â€“ they take more time and honour them better than we do here. Remembering people and their lives and their stories, we need to do more of that.â€
FUNDRAISER THIS SATURDAY
To help pay for the trip, Doherty and friends have organized a fundraiser scheduled for this Saturday (March 14) at Kennedy Neighbourhood Pub. She promises prizes, raffles, 50/50 draws and burger deals, and also a chance to help a crack local band play for an adoring European crowd.
Upcoming performance dates for Delta Concert Band include March 28 at KinVillage Community Centre in Tsawwassen and, in a concert dubbed â€œDancing in the Aisles: Dance Music for Winds,â€ April 18 at Kwantlen Polytechnic Universityâ€™s Surrey campus. For details, check the bandâ€™s website at Deltaconcertband.ca.
Watching the Delta Concert Band during its weekly rehearsal is like watching a family â€“ a really big family â€“ come together for its Sunday meal. A gentle barb here and there. A few jokes. Tempest at the front, waving his baton like the patriarch he is, and some guy over there acting up. And in the end, everything just tastes really good and you canâ€™t wait to do it again.
Says Doherty, â€œTheyâ€™re not just my bandmates, but some of my closest friends.â€