Each December, a branch of our federal defenders are sent on a mission unlike any other. Thirty-five men and women sit hushed behind a curtain, instruments drawn, about to detonate 45 minutes of non-stop concert tunes on a room packed with school kids.
“It’s not a sense of impending doom, but you can hear them – they’re all hyped up,” says Naden Band director, Lt.(N) Matthew Clark. “It’s our job to get them even more hyper. You can see the teachers all sitting there, like: ‘Oh, man.’”
This month, the Royal Canadian Navy’s Naden Band will perform its 35th season of holiday concerts, including elementary school matinees, which supply needy families with toys for their children under the Christmas tree. The Salvation Army toy drive show exemplifies one end of a wildly diverse list of engagements for the professional band, now supporting National Defence’s Maritime Forces Pacific for the 73rd season.
A favoured element of the holiday shows – and a direct demonstration of the band’s aim to foster goodwill with the public – includes the tradition of bringing a randomly drawn audience member to the stage to guest conduct Sleigh Ride. Highlights during Clark’s two-year run have included poised, pre-pubescent maestras, a man who simultaneously mimed riding a horse and an older gentleman who appreciated the opportunity as a former musician.
“He was the politest, most humble man, a lovely man. I shook his hand at the end and he looked at me and said: ‘I didn’t realize it was that easy,’” Clark says with a laugh.
The band’s primary mandate is to support the Navy at any given time to get the job done. They’re ready to deploy, as Clark puts it, into a concert band, stage band, dance band, brass quintet, woodwind quintet, two jazz quintets, brass choir, woodwind choir and any number of duos and combos to do just that.
Despite its long history in Esquimalt – which includes a three-year hiatus from ‘94 to ‘97 when federal funds were cut, and outcry ensued – the general public often isn’t aware that the band is comprised of full-time professional musicians with either undergraduate or master’s degrees in music, not military members who happen to have developed their musical talents.
“Many people don’t understand the level of musicianship,” says Petty Officer First Class Karen Shields, a flautist and PR contact for the band, who successfully auditioned in 2006. “They’ll come to the shows and be wowed. Once you engage in the conversation – they’re fascinated by what we do and the education that we have.”
Audiences at this year’s holiday shows will be privy to the world premiere of a new composition by the Naden Band and Juno Award-winning Order of Canada recipient trombonist Ian McDougall. The work was composed in McDougall’s Saanich-based home studio – a situation that initially intimidated Clark.
“He made me feel so very comfortable, so very quickly,” Clark said. “If he swears at you, it means that you’re in. He’s an excellent man.”
The difference such professionals experience with Naden versus other bands, Clark says: it’s the closeness and positivity between members. He likens the dynamic to that of a family – one with a range of interests.
“The great talent of the Naden Band lets us play everything from Sponge Bob Square Pants to the finale of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.”