125 Years of the Stratford Concert Band by Leslie Bellan, Stratford -Perth Archives

And the band played on! That's what the Stratford Concert Band as such, and under other names, has been doing continuously for more than 110 years. I was reminded recently that another decade has passed since it celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2007. Last year marked 110 years of the band performing music for the enjoyment ofthe people of Stratford and area, keeping the sound of a concert band alive, frequently playing at community functions, and presenting several concerts each year, most notably its weekly Wednesday night summer concerts held, in more recent years, at Upper Queen's Park.

According to an article that appeared in the Stratford Beacon Herald on Sept. 7, 1957, back in 1871, the employees of the then Grand Trunk Railway shops got together and formed a band. The instruments were provided by the company.

Practices were held twice a week, and all the members, as a general rule, turned out to learn their music. Smartly attired in scarlet coats and navy-blue pants, they looked like regular infantry soldiers when they turned out on parade.

The band played on several occasions at the races at the old race track on the Huron Road, near where Finnegan's Dairy was located, It is not known who led the band, or how long the band was in existence. After the turn of the century, interest in a band among employees of the shops was rekindled and, in 1907, the GTR Employees' Band was formed, with James Malone as bandmaster, One of the founders of the band was David Brodhagen, who, in 1957, was still a member of the band. Members continued to come and go, but Mr. Malone, recognized as one of the best bandmasters Stratford ever had, usually managed to keep about 30 members with him.

The band played weekly concerts on the old band stand at the corner of Erie and Ontario streets. Later, the stand was moved to Lakeside Park across from the present York apartments and finally disappeared, giving way to the present band shell along the river drive, which was built in 1929, as noted in a Stratford Park's Board 1929 correspondence file.

When the GTR was absorbed by the CNR in 1923, the musicians became the CNR Employees' Band and, in 1964, after more than 50 years affiliated with the GTR and CNR, the band began an association with the legion, taking the name of the Stratford Royal Canadian Legion Concert Band. It was in 1992 that the band became an independent group, taking its current name of the Stratford Concert Band.

In 1957, the band celebrated its 50th anniversary. CNR Band minutes note that a Musical Extravaganza was held at the Classic City Arena on Sept. 14 to commemorate the special occasion. On the program were the Leslie Bell Singers, the Toronto Men Teachers' Choir, Karen Lee Dobrindt of London, who was a prodigy on the marimbaphone, well known singing personality of CBC Television, Madam "Juliette", Canada's brilliant, internationally acclaimed trumpet soloist and CBC Tv star Ellis McClintoch, and a composite band of 55 players under the direction of bandmaster Mr. Harvey Gleiser, and guest conductor Mr. Martin Boundy.

In honour of its 50th anniversary, the CNR Concert Band wanted an official march and they held a competition to get one. There were six entries, and they chose a composition of a young London bandsman, Henk Uitvlucht, who came to Canada from Holland. His march, which he both composed and arranged, was named The CNR Band Festival March and was played by the composite band. The Musical Extravaganza was emceed by Bill Inkol, (see Morenz Drive) CJCS radio's program and sports director.

CNR band minutes note that although the band took a severe financial beating, the members of the band felt proud and satisfied that they had marked the occasion in a manner befitting the 50th anniversary, and had the satisfaction of the press reporting the event as the season's top show.

Fifty years later in 2007, the Stratford Concert Band celebrated its 100th anniversary by presenting an anniversary gala concert The Winds of Time: A Centennial Tribute 100 Years of Music Making in Stratford, under the direction of conductor Nigel Evans. The selections for this concert reflected the musical and historical events that shaped the band over its long and varied history. It is interesting to note that the band revived the CNR Band Festival March for this momentous occasion. The master of ceremonies was CTV's chief news anchor and senior news editor, Lloyd Robertson, (see Wellington Street) who began his broadcasting career in 1952 at CJCS radio in his hometown of Stratford.