Around 10 a.m. on a Saturday, the Sackville Heights Community Centre in Lower Sackville is bustling. The aptly named 9 a.m. Band is winding down practice in the gym as members of the Sackville Concert Band arrive and share hellos over the music spilling out into the hallway.
The Sackville Community Band Society formed in 2002 when Gordon Morgan, an avid volunteer and former member of the Sackville Community Development Association, asked Bryon Cooper from the Canadian Forces Band Branch to put together a marching band for the Patriot Days Canada Day parade.
“Bryron was keen on the whole idea,” says Jim Forde, one of the conductors and an original member of the band. “He started calling around to see who was interested, and people said, ‘Yeah we’d be interested in forming a band… but our marching days are over.’”
Sixteen years later, the Concert Band still attracts past members of the Stadacona Band of the Royal Canadian Navy members (like Forde) “and a few good civilian players” including current and former music teachers, and professional musicians, says Forde.
The idea wasn’t new. Community bands were popular across the country from the 1920s–1950s, but participation dwindled in recent decades. In the mid-90s, Forde says the idea sparked anew.
Today, the Sackville Concert Band has 55 members, and the 9 a.m. Band, features 50 players who loved making music in school band and want to revive their skills. Concert Band clarinet player and former Band Society president Steve Rigden says the two have some overlap, members of the more experienced band want to learn a new instrument or mentor those returning to music.
In addition to giving local musicians an outlet, the band also gives members an opportunity to give back to their community, says Rigden. “The concerts are really the icing on the cake,” he says.
Membership to both bands is free, and the Band Society is a registered charitable organization. Admission to most concerts is silver collection at the door that’s split with a community group and the band’s student bursary. The Keep the Music Alive bursary gives several high school students $250 annually to help with school band fees like instrument rentals and additional classes. In 2018, four students received bursaries.
“We’re so much more than people think we are,” says Moria McDonald, a Concert Band flautist for six years. “We do concerts for other organizations. We have done concerts at schools just to get kids are involved in music in their own communities.” One example, she says, is three years of concerts at Woodlawn United Church in Dartmouth to raise money to make the building more accessible to people with mobility issues.
McDonald says a big part of the draw for her is “getting people involved in a different way and giving people an experience that you typically have to spend a lot of money to have. With us it’s just the change in your pocket.”
Rigden says the band is looking for opportunities to play across the province next year to share its musical and fundraising talent.
Catch the Sackville Community Band’s last 2018 performance at the annual Toys for Christmas Charity Concert on Dec. 16 at the Springfield Lake Recreation Centre in Middle Sackville. Bring a new toy or non-perishable food to donate.
Click here to learn how to join the 9 a.m. Band.