“If I don’t practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.”
– Jascha Heifetz
Due to Covid-19 restrictions and precautions, the musicians of the 4 Wing Band went for about 500 days without being able to rehearse together. They’ll be the first to tell you that it shows.
But now that they have resumed weekly rehearsals, the players and their conductor are thrilled to be playing again.
Warrant Officer Sylvain Beyries was posted to the 4 Wing Cold Lake bandmaster position just as pandemic restrictions were taking hold in the spring of 2020. He took the podium in front of his band for the first time two weeks ago.
It’s a new start, in more ways than one.
“First of all,” Beyries said, “it’s not only that we’re back together, but we’re in a new building. And people didn’t play for a while. Some of them didn’t play at all for 18 months.”
“Also, I am a new conductor—when they stopped playing a year and a half ago, it was with a different conductor. So now they have to adapt to my conducting style and my musical vision and interpretation of all the music we’re doing, and also get used to playing with each other again.
“So it’s a big adaptation,” he said. “But so far it’s going much better than I expected.”
The Canadian Armed Forces has six Regular Force professional bands—two each for the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Royal Canadian Air Force. These are supplemented by Reserve bands across the country and half a dozen voluntary Military Support Bands like the one in Cold Lake.
The players in the 4 Wing Band are military and civilian amateurs, but they have a defined role supporting ceremonial functions on the base.
“The role of the band is basically to play for official functions like mess dinners and parades,” Beyries said. “For example, (former 4 Wing Commander) Major General Eric Kenny is coming on an official visit to the base, and the military musicians will play the General Salute for the arrival ceremony.”
Unlike a typical community band which might give a Christmas concert and a spring concert, Beyries said the 4 Wing Band is frequently called upon to support parades and ceremonies. The workload makes it impractical to rely on the nearest Regular Force band, the Royal Canadian Artillery Band in Edmonton, to support Cold Lake’s music needs.
“We have requirements almost every week or every other week to perform for official functions,” Beyries said.
It adds to the workload of the players, all of whom have primary responsibilities to their military or civilian “day jobs,” but it allows them to contribute their talent and their shared passion for music to important activities at 4 Wing.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Beyries said. “The volunteers enjoy playing. For them, it’s a different activity than their job and at the same time they can provide some service to the base.”
He looks forward to adding public performances and school concerts to the band’s activities. But first, there’s a year and a half of inactivity to overcome.
Beyries says the players are enthusiastic, and they’re up to the challenge.
“I can feel that everybody’s super happy actually to be back. You can feel the joy of taking up the instrument again and playing together, seeing each other,and making something together again,” he said.
“For me, too, it’s a great joy to conduct a band after a year and a half. It’s a really good vibe that we have now. It’s very positive and people are ready to put in the work.”