A Year to Remember
For the band, the busy time of the year has arrived. From the twenty-second of September, to the first of December, the band has been or will be involved in sixteen performances: two fall fair parades at Glencoe and Dorchester, concerts at seniors’ facilities of Richmond Woods, the Mount Hope Center and the Kiwanis Center as well as concerts at St Joseph’s and Parkwood Hospitals. Next are the Santa Claus parades which include Ingersoll, Tillsonburg, St. Thomas, Hyde Park, Aylmer, Forest, Port Stanley, Springfield and Belmont. If you add seven or eight Wednesday night practices you have a schedule of whirlwind intensity. It is little wonder that after that schedule the band enjoys a welcomed winter break.
This was my sixteenth year in the band and at year’s end one can’t help reflect on the band’s life and work. Over the years as the post war Dutch community ages in Canada and the next generations become a little more Canadian in language and culture, the band plays at fewer Dutch events. Fiftieth wedding anniversaries, one of our favorite celebrations, have become fewer as have invitations to play at Dutch Community celebrations. At the same time invitations to play at seniors’ homes and hospitals as well as requests to play at Santa’s parades have increased.
The band, like the venues, also has changed. When I joined, the players who were first generation Dutch were easily in the majority; now they are in the minority. The number of women has tripled; we now have three. With the number of deaths, three just in this year and the number of those retiring, we depend upon and are so grateful for new members; with them the band has a future.
Our music has not changed a great deal. We still play a mixture of Dutch tunes, polkas, waltzes, military marches, and one tango called "I Love Holland." A newer tune for us, Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline" has become a band standard. As I write this newsletter (Nov. 12) I have just been reminded that it was 100 years ago the WWI Armistice was signed. Some of our marches come from that time. You may be familiar with the prophet Isaiah’s vision of peace: "There will come a day when spears will be made into pruning hooks and shields into ploughs." When I think of playing "Old Comrades" or "It’s a Long Way to Tipperary" on parade, I believe if Isaiah had been around in 1918, he might have written "There will come a day when songs written for war time will be played at Santa Claus parades where children will laugh and dance, and parents will smile, and clap their hands."
Speaking of the Santa Claus parades, while they are one of the most fun events, they are by far the most demanding. The parades are just plain cold. Lips on brass mouth pieces and fingers in thin gloves freeze; parade routes are long and always face a bitter wind. To band members, hardy superheroes of cheer, to these marathoners of mirth, and to all, a wish for a very merry Christmas.
Now with no small regret but with much gratitude, I am announcing my own retirement from the band. I will be 82 in March. I have lost some of my eyesight over the summer and have battled COPD for many years. The last time I walked from the parking lot to the children’s hospital carrying my trombone, I had to stop twice to catch my breath. Thanks to so many for such a rich and rewarding 16 year band experience and for the pleasure, this year, of writing about it. (John Zeeman will place the 12 news letters on the website as a "year in the life of the band.") I so value the friendships made and the opportunities the band offered, not least the wonderful trip to Holland: all cherished memories that will last a lifetime. So, what can I say but a heart felt THANKS! Keep up the very fine work of representing the Dutch community of London and area, indeed a labour of love - and keep in touch.
Gregory Thomas Jackson
What a shock it was when we heard that Greg Jackson, our trumpet player, who had gone to the hospital for a hip replacement received the news that he had stage four cancer. Not long after that we heard that Greg was in hospital.Then on October 04 Greg passed away. Greg was a most valued trumpet player and in the years that we knew him, represented so well the welcoming, ligh-hearted spirit of the band. He was there with a lively and timely comment. His sense of humour and easy laughter were contagious. His dedication was second to none. He played in four London bands. Sometimes when we played in the same parade as one of his other bands he had to make a choice. I expect he chose the band where he thought he was most needed.
Greg had years of experience in the financial and insurance world of London Life where he worked. He was a small "c" conservative in every way. He believed in the free market, with no tariffs. He had no tolerance for Canada’s supply management. He believed that the market would and should determine who stayed in business. He was a wise and prudent investor. He used to say, "I only invest in companies I can understand. I don’t invest in tech companies because I don’t understand them." Politically Greg was as far to the right of center as I am to the left, but we never had a conversation that I didn’t enjoy.
I phoned Greg as did many of our band members while he was in hospital. His conversation was matter-of -fact and almost casual. He was gracious, immediately putting me at ease. I got the feeling that Greg was in control, as much as one can be in control when one is palliative. I asked him how he was. He said that he was not good but would "be better" when this ordeal was over. He spoke of the funeral arrangements and of the church, St. John the Evangelist, where the service was to be held. It was not a long conversation, nor did it need to be. I will not forget the quiet courage, the thoughtfulness, the grace under great stress. His last few weeks was a lesson in how to face death.
I remembered the times when he was at practice or taking part in an band concert, and was so often in pain; sometimes standing as long as he was able, then asking for a chair to finish the concert. We all thought, including Greg, that it was just hip pain that would soon be taken care of with surgery.
Greg was a past master of the Tuscon Masonic Lodge and a long time member of the Mocha Shrine, two fraternal organizations that have both a charitable and spiritual component.
The Sunday before Greg died, the second hymn we sang that morning in worship was a hymn called "I was there to hear your Borning Cry," which is the first line of the hymn. The second line follows with "I’ll be there when you are old." I thought of Greg as we sang. When I got home I tucked a copy of that hymn in a card and sent it off to Greg.
Life in so many ways, proves to be unfair, or is it that we always want more. We just know that it hurts to have such a vibrant brother leave us when he had given us so much and still had so much more to give. We remember him most fondly. We send our love to his son Scott and daughter-in-law, April.
And what would appear to be some of Greg’s last words to all who knew him: the last words in his obituary. If you wish to remember me, "donations may be to the Shriners Hospital for Children, or to the charity of your choice." That too is the Greg Jackson that we got to know and love.
Octoberfest at the Big Apple
No, it was not New York City. The big apple mentioned was the one painted on the north wall of the dining room in the new state-of-the-art Manor Village Seniors’ Center at 630 Victoria St. London. Over the apple are the words, "An Apple a Day Bistro." Under a painting of the apple is part of a quote from Hippocrates (460-370 BC): "Let thy food be thy medicine." We were invited to play there for the Octoberfest noon meal.
Judging by the applause, the toe tapping, by those who joined the band in the sing-along numbers, by the favourable comments, and the residents who got up to dance, we had a most appreciative audience.
During the break, I spoke to Sharie, one of the impromptu dancers. She mistook me for one of the residents, "Do you waltz?" she asked. "No," I said. "I will teach you." She said. "The next waltz the band plays, you come over. I will show you how." Then she spotted my band tie and said, apologetically, "Oh I see you are one of the musicians." "That’s OK, I’m old enough to be a resident. I’m 81," I said. I asked about her interest in dancing and when it began. She spoke of her love of music and dancing. She took piano and tapdancing lessons as a child growing up in Alvinston in Lambton county. Being from a rural area, she then learned to square dance and that was just the beginning. She moved to London for her grade 11 and has been in the city ever since.
Sharie also is an accomplished musician. She began playing the piano and became a church pianist while still in elementary school. That began a lifetime of service as a pianist and organist in churches and as an accompanist and mentor to many musicians. She continues to play the piano. When she moved into the Manor she brought her piano with her.
She wanted to know more about the band, so I told her about the web site and the newsletter and asked if I could mention her in the next edition. She was delighted. I decided to send her a draft copy for her approval before this newsletter was posted. She spent the rest of the time dancing with other residents, as well as a staff member who came dressed for the occasion in lederhosen. It was obvious that she was the one inviting and encouraging others to dance. After the concert I said to her, "You should teach dance here." Then realised that she had just done that.
There may come a time when seniors applying to live in a retirement residence may be asked, "What skills, talent or knowledge do you have that you might be willing to teach others while you are will us?" as well as the corollary, "What is it that you would like to learn?" It would give the facility a life long learning component. If that is part of what is to come in some seniors’ residences, we not only caught a glimpse of the future but helped it happen. How satisfying is that!
One of the ways that you know you have made a favourable impression, is you get invited back. We were. Just two weeks later we got to play at the Manor’s outside BBQ. The bonus was the invitation to eat. After the residents had eaten, we got to line up for chicken kabobs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, salads, watermelon and deliciously decadent cupcakes.
I saw Sharie again as I was about to leave the building. As we chatted she said, "The meals here are just wonderful. I am so happy to be here." We can agree whole heartedly with her comments about the food and we also were most happy to be there.
Lambeth Harvest Festival Parade
September, for the band, began with the Lambeth Harvest Festival Parade.
The purpose of the Festival is stated as "Urban and rural neighbours coming together to celebrate each other." Any event that seeks to bring people together for greater understanding and appreciation needs to be celebrated.
While still summer, the parade day was cool and windy with a feeling of the fall season to come. The band route, curiously, was not down Lambeth’s main street where people usually gather for the parade but though a subdivision. Was it a way of welcoming those from the city who chose to live in Lambeth, or a reminder to the people in the subdivision that Lambeth would not be easily urbanized?
The parade had a rural feel; floats tended to be farm wagons pulled by tractors; bales of straw were the preferred or perhaps the default seating on the wagons. One tractor, not pulling a wagon was a mammoth John Deer machine with 8 wheels. Do you ever wonder about the cost of such a vehicle? I found a similar 2018 eight-wheeler on line for sale, with just over a hundred hours on its six hundred and twenty horse power diesel engine. It was listed at a mere $440,000.00. That’s a lot of (soy) beans!
The festival to follow also had a rural flavour: a pancake and maple syrup breakfast, country and western musicians, a wood carving demonstration with a chain saw and a soft ball tournament and much more including a BBQ lunch and a banquet in the local arena at night. Food has always brought people together.
The ball teams were co-ed and looked to be in their 20’s. They have a rural origin because, as we know, or remember, there was a time when every rural elementary school had a ball diamond and a co-ed school team. Soft ball, for the grandfathers and grandmothers of the present teams, if they were rural, would have been the recreation choice for school recess and noon hour. Will soft ball tournaments survive a generation introduced to Wi-Fi, smart phones and iPads? Will there be ball tournaments in 20 or 30 years? Probably, but it might be the same generation with a switch along the way to slow pitch.
So, was our band a good fit for the parade? The Dutch are no strangers to both rural and urban life. Many Dutch families who came to Canada after the war began their new life here in agriculture. Their children, like those of their Canadian neighbours, often moved off the farm to get jobs in the city. Moreover, any city band decked out in tomato colours of red, green and yellow with a large harvest ripe tomato painted on the bass drum should feel right at home in a rural-urban celebration.
The Dundas Ontario Cactus Parade and
the Dutch Connection
When Barend (Ben) Veldhuis left the Netherlands to begin his new life in Canada, he may have been thinking about buying some land and establishing a greenhouse for growing plants. Chances are those thoughts did not include a cactus. However, after buying land in Dundas, ON. he built the greenhouse and began to grow and sell cacti. His enterprise grew and expanded exponentially. So successful was his business that by 1976, Dundas claimed to be the "Cactus Capital of the Universe." A cactus parade and festival followed. This year was their forty-third.Unfortunately, I had to miss this parade, but thanks to Sharon Weames, our trumpet player turned bass drummer, you have a firsthand account.
She reports, "The weather wasn’t nice when we headed down 401- the fog and the rain kept coming. As we reached Brantford it had eased off. By the time we reached Dundas it had stopped with a hint of blue sky. We found our spot # 16 in the parade. Though the rain had stopped, the humidity came back full. There were nine of us on the float. The enthusiasm along the parade route was evident. The people were clapping and dancing and thoroughly enjoying themselves, as we were. It was a great parade and the rain held off."
Information about this year’s parade can be found on their web site. There is an impressive list of the 13 bands with a description of each one. The list includes the 48th Highlanders Pipe and Drum, the Band of the Royal Regiment of Canada, the 163rd Pipe and Drum Band, the Preston Scout House, the Silver Leaf Brass Ensemble just to name a few. To say that we were in good company is a vast understatement.
The theme of this year’s parade was "Toys and Games on Parade". The more than 90 floats were judged under several categories. The overall winner, appropriately, was a float crowded with children who were holding sheets of bristle board marked with dots to represent the dots on dice. The winning float for the "Most Original" category went to Dykstra Lumber. It was a 1930's Dykstra delivery truck. In its wooden rack were two eight-foot cacti, but not cut from the Nevada desert. They were the Canadian version, cut from three quarter inch fir plywood and painted cactus green. Under the category of "Best Overall Effort" was a float featuring five smiling young women and a full size yellow barrel overflowing with toy monkeys. Painted on the barrel were the words, "More fun than a Barrel of Monkeys". What was curious about the float was the name of the group, the "Red Hat Hooters". I can only guess what it means; perhaps a rather bold parody, or a younger expression of the Red Hat Society ladies, a group of fun-loving older ladies who seek to push boundaries and challenge convention.
By the way, as you may have heard, August marked the 15th anniversary of the great black-out, when most of Ontario and part of New York State lost power for a few hours. Do you remember where you were when that happened? We do. We were taking part in the Dundas Cactus Parade.
As we well know, Dutch people contribute and enrich life in Canada in so many ways. The Cactus Parade and the three-day Cactus Festival is just one small but significant example. Who would have envisioned a parade and festival in Dundas, named after a cactus? Or for that matter, who would have guessed that there would be in London, a Dutch band named after a soup, and that every August, the Dutch band takes part in the parade with the Dutch origin to help with their celebration.
Glen Wright, with help from Sharon Weames.
Concerts and Canada Day
In addition to the Memorial Service for Thys, the band had four other engagements in the two week period beginning with the last Wednesday in June. That was the date of the Teddy Bear Picnic at the Children’s Hospital in London. It is such an honour just to be there to add a bit of colour and sound to the hospital environment. It is a party not to be missed. The scene in the large bright atrium is one of parents and children wandering about, with some children walking, some in strollers or wheel chairs. An adult size teddy bear meets and greets, along with Star Wars characters. A young couple push a stroller with an oxygen tank protruding from its mesh shelf under the seat, a shelf more accustomed to sunscreen, juice boxes and bear paw cookies. Their daughter of about a year old, lies asleep, an oxygen tube taped securely into her nose. Another couple walk with a stroller and a rolling intravenous pole. I ask about their little girl, also asleep. "We are so pleased," says the father, "She will be going home in a few days." A boy, about 5, with Down Syndrome who sits in a wheel chair has struck up a friendship with another boy, also in a wheel chair. A tall Muslim woman carrying an infant, holds another by her hand while two other children follow. I spoke to one of the family support workers who said that the children were so courageous. "We can learn so much from them," she added. You get the feeling that you are in the midst of battles being fought, with most being won. You are surrounded by warriors: children, parents, volunteers, support staff, doctors and nurses, all heroes.
Four days later our band bus leaves the Moose Lodge, where the bus is now parked, for the Canada Day parade in Sarnia. The day was hot and the parade long. The band music for the parade was from Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Canada. In other words, very Canadian. We, or our ancestors, are all "from away." It seems that 1867 is late, to mark Canada’s "birthday," since the Europeans by 1867 had been in this country for over 300 years. Our Indigenous brothers and sisters, who called North America "Turtle Island," arrived 15 to 20 thousand years earlier. However, in 1887 the Fathers of Confederation did declare the 4 provinces a "Dominion" and chose the Huron/Iroquois name Canada, probably a mis-pronunciation and a misunderstanding of their word "Kanata" which meant village. When the band returned home they played at the Moose Lodge for their Canada Day celebration. How Canadian is that eh?
The following week the band put on an evening concert at "The Seasons" a retirement residence in Strathroy with the ambience of a 4 Star hotel. The weather was perfect for the outside concert on the spacious patio. The audience was appreciative and responsive. A good percentage were Dutch. Women outnumbered the men by about 4 to 1, but then the Blue Jays’ game was on TV. The band may have been a better bet. The Braves beat the Jays by a score of 9 to 5. Following the concert two women came forward to express their appreciation with one saying how much she appreciated the Dutch tunes we had selected.
The two concerts, bookends for the Canada Day parade, both gave us glimpse of how we care for and about the very young and the elderly. Children’s hospitals and seniors’ homes were not only absent in 1867 but beyond imagining. They have contributed to our life expectancy, a measure of general health and well being. In 1867 life expectancy was 43 years. Today it is 81.8. Like proverbial fine wine, Canada has greatly improved with age; reason enough to put on the red tee shirt and wave the flag.
Celebration of Life: a Memorial Service for
Matheus "Thys" Drost 1931-2018
On July 9th we gathered at Westview Funeral chapel to pay tribute, and to play tribute to one of the five founding members of the Tomato Soup Band, Thys Drost, who passed away July 3rd. If one were to choose a person who most represented the steady dedication, the proud Dutch heritage, the eager promotion of the band and all that it was attempting to do with and for the Dutch Canadian Society, that person would be Thys Drost. As one of our saxophone players, his music and the band were not just another hobby but his passion; a deep life- giving part of his life.
We gained further insighte into Thys’s dedication to hobbies from his son Dirk who spoke at the memorial service. Dirk said that hobbies through the years were mostly outdoor hobbies and not without risk. He recalled the time when Thys’s hobby was sky diving. He had made enough jumps that he could be called a veteran of the sport. But there was one time when Dirk and his sister Ellen, along with their mother Maria were watching one of his jumps. They saw the jumpers leave the plane. All but one parachute opened. It was Thys’s. The lines had become tangled and Thys was spinning out of control in free fall. A few critical seconds from the ground Thys got the lines untangled and his chute popped open, but too close to the ground for a safe landing. Thys’s inability to direct his chute toward a safe landing site proved to be a blessing. Thys landed in the top of a big tree which broke his fall and saved his life. It was his last jump. Maria had decided.
Another hobby, Dirk recalled, began when his father arrived home and said, "I have just bought a horse, but there is no need to tell your mother." He wanted it to be a surprise.
Thys’s work was as varied as his hobbies. He worked in a gold mine in South Africa but after seeing the way South African Blacks were being treated, quit in protest and returned to the Netherlands. Thys owned and operated a bar in the Netherlands and a farm in Canada; he drove a school bus and sold real estate.
During the service conducted by Fr. Murray Sample, a prayer used exclusively in St. John’s Cathedral in Den Bosch was read. We found out that Thys, who was born in that city, considered St. John’s his home church. This may explain how the musical number "Onze Ouwe St. Jan" named for that Cathedral, got into our play book. The music is not hymn-like as one might expect but a spirited march of triumph and joy. Thys, as we know, lived though and played through a ten year battle with cancer. His courage and resolve to confront that disease on every level, was nothing less than heroic. I like to think that were days when "Onze Ouwe St. Jan " both the cathedral and the music were his comfort and companion.
The memorial service began with our band playing three of Thys’s favourite numbers. It ended with a recording of "We’ll Meet Again" – don’t know where, don’t know when. Aside from an implied meeting beyond this life, we will meet Thys in our memory in so many times and places. He will be there when we think of quiet courage in the face of immense adversity. He will be there when we play his favourite music and whenever we think about the life and work of our band. For you Maria, Ellen and Dirk and your family and friends, Thys will be present in a myriad of fond memories. To you we extend our love; and a reminder that over those precious memories; over his life so generously shared; over the love that was so freely given and received, death has no dominion.
The term celebration of life might refer to a memorial service for a loved one, a party, or even a parade. Over a six-day period from May 21st to May 27 the Tomato Soup Band, experienced all three.
We began the week with Thamesford’s Calithumpian Parade, celebrating the birthday of Queen Victoria, born May 24th, 1819. The word Calithumpian has its origin in Britain in the early 1800’s. It referred to a "spontaneous parade celebrating an event, with participants often acting like buffoons, marching to the banging of pots and pans." Does anything in that remind you of the Tomato Soup Band? Who knew that our soup pot had such interesting ancestry. Dirk De Vries, our soup pot player, ever the star of our show, was there banging the pot and putting the thump in Calithumpian.
If all creative effort is art, then a parade is the art of the people. The variety and creativity in parade art is a delight. In Thamesford, a Peterbilt "semi" truck carries a rock band; a 30 ton Kenworth cement mixer, appears in pastel pink. For every ten cubic yards of cement poured, a donation is made to breast cancer research. An ancient two cylinder John Deer tractor put-puts along bringing a smile to any farmer over 65. Tractor-drawn trailers are crowded with waving Cub Scouts and Girl Guides; Mocha Shrine members hunker down in wildly painted "Love Bugs" or ride miniature police cars, fire engines and formula one race cars, blowing horns and popping wheelies. A small almost unnoticed float, a David among Goliaths, carries hand written posters warning that if a new highspeed rail line between Windsor and Toronto is built, too much precious farmland will be lost. Members of the Oxford Re-enactment Society walk by looking like they had just stepped out of the set of a Shakespearian play at Stratford. People dressed as Star Wars’ Princess Leia, Chewbacca, take a friendly walk with arch-enemies Darth Vader and the Imperial Storm Troopers. In spite of the 30 degree heat they stay after the parade for selfies. All this and much more, moving along to the tunes of a Scottish pipe band from Ingersoll, a Caribbean-style steel drum band from London and our Dutch Heritage band.
Would Queen Victoria, have been pleased? What would she be thinking if she were there watching? Oh, there is one more thing about Calithumpian parades you might or might not want to know. According to the Thamesford web page, these parades in 19th century England, were sometimes the spontaneous celebrations that followed public hangings. Oops! So, I expect that the Queen would be both relieved and pleased that there had not been a hanging, and that capital punishment had been banned. She would marvel that in at least one of the bands, a pot was still being banged with a spoon. She might even ask for a "selfie" with Dirk, just for old times sake. In her wildest imagination she would not have envisioned just how many changes had taken place in the last 200 years. It would not take long for her to realize that while we have more than enough problems that need our attention, life, both in her country and ours, two centuries later, is infinitely better. For that also we celebrate; for that also we blow the horn, beat the drum, and bang the pot.
The Portuguese Club provided the food and the drinks at the Azores Cultural Center, where we now practice. We provided the music. To the band, that’s a party. It was an excellent way for band members, their spouses, friends or family members to end a very warm week in May. We brought our musical instruments, so after the meal we gathered for a few musical numbers. When band leader Stew Taylor announced our concluding number, "Alpen Express," there was a call from some members of the audience for Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline." How often does that happen? Then again, Does Celine Dion leave the stage without a call for "My Heart Will go on"? Could Leonard Cohen end a concert without a request for "Hallelujah?" OK, OK, I know it’s not the same, but it was gratifying to know that we are becoming known for more than "Beer Barrel Polka" and "Alpen Express."
The evening featured a surprise presentation to retiring band members Julie Juffermans and Harry Brouwer. Band President Martin Van Der Mark presented them with framed certificates acknowledging their combined half century contribution to the life and work of the band.
Julie, our cymbal player, joined the band when it began 26 years ago. She also served for a time as the band treasurer. As the only woman in the band, until recently, she became the band mother; straightening scarves and turning down collars, trying, often in vain, to get us to look half way presentable. On long bus rides she was there passing out soda crackers or mints. She was always there with a "hello", a smile, a hug and a "Thanks for coming."
Harry Brower played saxophone for the 24 years that he was with the band. He was and is also a dedicated patron. He took the major part in planning, arranging, and fund raising for the band’s two trips to the Netherlands. Harry was never short of ideas and not shy about sharing them. He was the go-to-guy when something needed to be done. His recent contribution was getting us a great deal on new band jackets including bringing Toyota on board as a sponsor.
We say a heartfelt "thank you" to both Julie and Harry and wish them good health and happiness in their retirement from the band. We look forward to keeping in touch and seeing them at our social events.
We were not finished with surprises. Just when we were expecting the party to wind down, four of our band members had other ideas. John Resendes who plays sax or tuba in the band, brought along his accordian. He was joined by our bass guitar player Joe Bondoso, and band members Sharon Weams and Martin Van Der Mark on percussion. It was an exciting new sound, even for this quartet, since that was their first time playing together. John, obviously, was in his musical element. The other three followed like the musical veterans that they are. Their version of "Roll out the Barrel" certainly had "the blues on the run." The rendition of "Delilah" would have been the envy of singer Tom Jones. And those were just the first two numbers. They were not just playing the music, they were at play. The fun they were having was obvious and contagious.
An evening that began with food and a drink, that was infused with friendly chat, gratitude and lively music, was a gift to body and spirit; as parties go, definitely a winner; indeed, an evening of celebration.
"All men will be sailors until the sea shall free them." Leonard Cohen in Suzanne.
Celebration of Life: The Memorial Service for
Donald John Wright 1933-2018.
Memorial services have become "Celebrations of Life." This is not to ignore the gravity of grief. Loss hurts. It is felt deeply, and daily. Our love to Donna and family especially at this time.
Grieving is also sharing the stories. In the sharing, the life of the loved one is celebrated. The sense of celebration came early as we gathered for the service for former band member Don Wright. As I walked through the lobby of Needham’s funeral home I could hear a clarinet. "Nice touch," I thought, "they have the music of Artie Shaw or Jimmy Dorsey playing as a prelude. Then as I turned the corner there it was, a wall sized video of Don Wright on clarinet in front of a small back up band. The video was shot in Texas where Don and Donna spent many winter vacations.
Don was born in England and came to Canada in 1953. He started his musical career at age 14 and played in the Sherwood Foresters’ band in England. In Canada he was a member of the Canadian Guard band and the Royal Canadian Regiment band in Ottawa, the band that accompanied the changing of the guard on Parliament Hill. In London he was part of the Mocha Shine Band and at the age of 80 he joined the Tomato Soup Band.
Don was a bandmaster’s dream. He could play a number of instruments, so wherever he was needed, be it on trumpet, clarinet, sax, or baritone, he was there to help out.
At the Celebration of Life service, the Rev. Jeff Hicks used the text from Ecclesiastes 3: "There is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to harvest etc." Through the service I kept thinking of Don’s favourite musical number, "Anchor’s Aweigh" and when I heard the selected reading I thought if the Hebrews had been a seafaring people, the writer may have added "There is a time to throw out anchors and a time to haul them up." To "weigh anchor" as we know, was to lift it to prepare to sail.
I never asked why this was a favourite. Perhaps it was the way it swings, or sounds. I am wondering if there might have been something more fundamental. We spend a good part of our lives dropping anchors to make life secure, safe and somewhat predictable. Life is also about risk-taking, about new learning, about looking for new seas to navigate. The latter describes Don.
He moved to Canada when he was 20, served with the military in the Suez, became an OPP officer and finished his working career with the London Transit Commission. He used to say he liked the Tomato Soup band because he never knew what was going to happen. He told me that he and Donna would take one day a week, gas up the car and head out of London not knowing exactly where they were going. They would spend the day exploring a different part of the country. Finally, well into his 80’s he began to learn to play the cello. It’s called life long learning.
When in hospital during those last few weeks, a nurse asked Don why he wanted to learn to play the cello. His reply, and we can just see the twinkle in his eye, was, "When I get to heaven, I want to play in a band, and just in case they have a preference for stringed instruments, I will be prepared."
So thanks Don for the music and for much, much more. Since the last anchor has been lifted, we say, "Bon Voyage!" and "Play on Don, just play on!"
A Party Fit for a King?
It’s not often we get to play at a birthday party for a King, but we did on April27, at the Richmond Woods Retirement Residence. Just after we arrived we were told by the recreation director, who just happens to be Dutch, that that day wass the birthday of King Willem Alexander of the Netherlands and the party was on.
I was curious about how the Dutch celebrated the day, so during our break I approached the two ladies wearing orange in the front row seats. "Good afternoon ladies, you are Dutch?" I asked. "Of course," said the lady wearing the T-shirt with Nederland written across the front. The other lady with the orange sweater began to speak to me. . . in Dutch. "Sorry," I said, "I don’t speak Dutch." "You don’t speak Dutch?" she said, looking surprised. "No" I said, "Not everyone in the band is Dutch." I said, suddenly feeling like an outsider. My feeling was short-lived when the other lady said. "Well, I am so glad that you are part of the band that keeps our traditions alive." Then she added. "We enjoyed the music so much. We sang along with the Dutch tunes that you played." We know the music, they knew the words and sang along. How perfect is that?
We never got around to talking about the King. We spoke of Holland and what it was like for them growing up there during the war; about when they came to Canada, etc. Then the lady in the orange sweater said, "I see that you don’t have an accordion in your band. I was looking for it and You should have one. "Sorry, no accordion," I said. "I used to play the accordian for dances back home." She said. "They were held often in barns. It was wonderful."
I found out later, what all Dutch people know, that the King’s birthday or "Koningsdag" is a national holiday in the Netherlands. It was Queen’s Day, celebrated on May 30 until 2014 when Queen Beatrix abdicated in favour of her son. It is a day filled with music, games, and free markets (yard sales). Some people paint their faces or dye their hair orange. Orange drinks are served. (I don’t think they mean orange juice.)
So next year King Willem-Alexander will be 52. If we have the opportunity to go back to the Richmond Woods for another "Koningsdag" we will be better prepared. We will include some extra Dutch music. wear orange, and raise a glass (of orange juice) to the King. Now if we just had an accordion to spice up a polka or two, at least one resident would feel that we had taken a significant step toward making the party one that was fit for a King.
Hello. My name is Glen Wright. By way of introduction, I joined the Tomato Soup Band as a trombone player 16 years ago. Tomato Soup Band news has been reported so well, and so faithfully for so many years by Terry Toll, I feel like a guest reporter at best. We appreciate, more than we can say Terry’s very fine work and dedication.
While Wright is not exactly a Dutch sounding name, I had two Dutch grandmothers, Gertrude Pieters and Wihemina Dewees, who lived in the late 1600’s. They were part of the family when my German Mennonite ancestors left Germany and spent two generations in Amsterdam before moving on to America. From the middle of the sixteenth century, Mennonites were persecuted in many countries in western Europe, but the Dutch welcomed them with open arms. So, a belated but heart felt thanks to the Dutch in general and to Gurtrude and Wilemina in particular. If they had not been there, chances are I would not be here.
Our Tomato Soup Band got off to a lively start after a Jan-Feb. break. It was at the CPR Hotel (The Ceeps) for the St. Paddy’s Day celebration. With most band members decked out in a variety of green hats for the occasion and with music loud and lively, the move from Dutch to a tip of the green hat to the Irish was not difficult. In fact after a couple of numbers a student came up to me and in a heavy accent said, "Are you an Irish band?" "No" I said. "We are a Dutch band, fashioned after carnival bands in Holland." "Ahh!" he said with a big smile, "I know those bands, I am from Germany." We had just given a German student a little bit of home. It did not seem to matter that most of our music was written at least two decades before the students’ grandparents were born. It is a long way from the DJ’s Hip Hop music to our Tipperary, but no one seemed to notice. No matter what we played, the dance floor was filled.
Our next engagement was made for us. It was also with students, this time at Ontario Hall at Western. We were invited to play at a cultural event featuring the food and customs of Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Croatia and Holland. Judging by the shouts and applause and the number of students who stopped texting and turned their phones into cameras and recording devices, we were a hit. One can guess that the pictures and films were not just for the students but for the friends and families back home.
After the 40 minute concert, we were more than ready for the five food groups. Although Holland’s food booth was at the end of the line, surprising number of band members having filled their trays with food still had room for a croquette. We boarded the bus with an invitation to return next year and with the renewed conviction that old or young, music, a universal language, has a way of bringing people together and lifting their spirits. What a privilege it is to help that happen.