Kelowna City Band members first picked up instruments in 1894 and the Penticton Concert Band has been making music since 1910. Vernon has boasted a community band since the 1920’s. In 2001, Kamloops joined the bandwagon with the formation of the Kamloops Community Band.Where did many of these eager and talented musicians get their start? A visit to the twentieth annual Okanagan Concert Band Festival revealed the secret.








Festival flashback

Noon hour approached at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre during the March festival. The atmosphere was electric. Students from grades 5 to 12 scurried through the back halls toward the Cleland Theatre. Many were dressed in black. Some wore crisp white shirts, black ties, black pants and polished shoes. Thee boys sported slicked down hair and the girls, carefully applied makeup. As they bustled silently past I caught a glimpse of the back of a black T-shirt. The red diamond-shaped logo read Warning. Band Geek. I laughed and the young teen smiled back over his shoulder. Students streamed by. Bold white letters stood out across their black shirts: Trumpet, Percussion or It’s OK. I’m with the band. ey carried utes, clarinets, saxophones and trumpets, lugged drums, tubas, cellos and violas, holding doors for each other as they rushed through the maze of halls toward the theatre.

Moments later they assembled on stage and in the first six rows of the theatre. Justin Glibbery, Penticton Secondary School’s music director, walked on stage. He raised his baton. Silence.

Don Grant, Okanagan Concert Band Festival coordinator

Most of the 1,200 students representing 22 participating bands sat ready to perform in the mass event, Band-O-Rama. Coming together to present Pirates of the Okanagan, an original composition by teachers Justin Glibbery and Stan Sabourin, is a highlight of the festival.

“Teachers can download all the parts for free,” said Don Grant, festival coordinator for the past 10 years. “They practice back at their schools then put it all together. Band-O-Rama is popular. We do it both days.”

Grant, who attended the University of Victoria, also holds graduate degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi. He explained how most band rooms are isolated in school buildings because of sound issues, so the festival is a great opportunity to connect with the larger community of band teachers. “We have three adjudicators who have come from Toronto, Vancouver and Salmon Arm. They give bands feedback on how to make their performances more solid. We are non-competitive and we like it that way.”

Teachers make it happen

Just before noon I grabbed a few moments with Krista Buttenaar, music teacher at Glenrosa Middle School in West Kelowna. Buttenaar, who holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario, is clearly dedicated to her craft and nds great joy in her students. “Being a teacher is very rewarding,” she said.

Kirsta Buttenaar, music teacher, Glenrosa Middle School.

“We learn so much at the festival. The adjudication happens right after our performance. We have a private tutor for 30 minutes. We learn new tricks. They are always very encouraging.”

Two enthusiastic Glenrosa students, Cisco Smit and Josh Richards, shared their band experience. Smit, who came from the Netherlands at the age of eight, had been playing the tuba for three years. Richards, on trombone for the same amount of time, came to the Okanagan from North Vancouver as a toddler. Both were planning to
continue band at Mount Boucherie Secondary this year. “They have a smaller, lighter, newer tuba, partly silver, at Mount Boucherie. I can’t wait to play it,” said Smit. Richards, also plays in the school jazz band and jazz combo. “Band is not for people who think it’s an easy grade. We have to practice to keep up with other members,” he said. “It’s a team.”

Members of West Kelowna’s Glenrosa Middle School band (2015/2016).

Hometown hero

Outside the Cleland eatre, after the Band-O-Rama buzz had died down, I corralled Michelle Reed, music teacher at A.L. Fortune Secondary School in Enderby. In her tenth year as a music teacher, the past ve at A. L. Fortune, she is clearly passionate about her calling. “I love it. Music is teaching life skills and self-discipline, helping students to be well rounded.”

Born and raised in Salmon Arm, Reed’s connection to instrumental music began as a Grade 7 trumpet student. She went on to study music at Brandon University in Manitoba. Now this hometown hero teaches grade 9 to 12 band, conducts the school concert band, drumline and jazz band groups, and the school choir, as well as recently directing 40 grade 10 to 12 students in the musical theatre production Back to the 80s.

Two of her band members clearly share her passion. Elly Crandlemire, on flute and alto sax, and Alan Batten, clarinet, both then in Grade 8, wore their Band Geek shirts with pride. “It’s our first time at the festival. It’s cool,” they agreed. “All the kids have bonded. I’ve made lots of new friends,” said Crandlemire. Their adjudicator, Gordon Waters, completing the full circle, was Reed’s high school band teacher.

Elly Crandlemire and Alan Batten, A. L. Fortune Secondary School, Enderby

Michelle Reed, music teacher, A. L. Fortune Secondary, Enderby.

Science and music

Researchers analyzed data from 157 sets of twins in a Swedish Study known as HARMONY, controlling for gender, education and physical activity. They found that those participants who played a musical instrument in older adulthood had a 64% lower likelihood of developing cognitive impairment or dementia.

Source: International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease

New kids on the block

Near the end of the afternoon, I caught up with Matt Falk, then in his second year as music teacher for students from grades 5 to 12 at Similkameen Elementary Secondary School in Keremeos. The well-travelled Falk, who studied music at the University of Alberta and education at Simon Fraser University, has also taught in Korea.

Another early starter, he has played alto saxophone since Grade 6, later adding piano to his repertoire. “It’s a fun job. Very invigorating. Now that I am a music teacher, I realize how important music is in every person.”

  1. Increases memory capacity
  2. Refines time management and organizational skills
  3. Boosts team skills
  4. Teaches perseverance
  5. Enhances coordination
  6. Betters mathematical ability
  7. Improves reading and comprehension skills
  8. Increases responsibility
  9. Provides exposure to cultural history
  10. Sharpens concentration
  11. Fosters self-expression and relieves stress
  12. Creates a sense of achievement
  13. Promotes social skills
  14. Boosts listening skills
  15. Teaches discipline
  16. Elevates performance skills and reduces stage fright
  17. Enhances respiratory system
  18. Promotes happiness in your life and those around you


Karmpreet Gill and Ava Cotrill , Simikameen  School Band

Festival newbie, Karmpreet Gill, had been playing clarinet in the Similkameen School band for six months. “I love all the different kinds of music we play,” she said, fixing me with an engaging smile. Her friend Ava Cotrill had been playing trumpet for 18 months. “It’s the one thing I’m good at,” she said. Behind her, Falk shook his head. The two girls have both feet firmly planted in the arts. Gill has been practicing Punjabi cultural dance since the age of five, while Cotrill has already studied piano and violin as well as ballet and tap. Both Keremeos girls planned to continue in band. “It’s fun to travel and learn new things,” said Gill.
I follow the band into the adjudication room. For the next 30 minutes they remained incredibly focused on the teaching and encouragement provided. When they played again, the difference was remarkable.

But what comes next?

Are these students forced to lay down their instruments and abandon their passion for music at the end of high school? A few continue formal training and become professional musicians and teachers, but many nd their way to long-standing community organizations like the Kelowna City Concert band.

Except for brief interruptions during the First and Second World Wars, the Kelowna City Concert Band has operated continuously since 1894. Currently 60 musicians, from teens to seniors, practice weekly. “My most proud moments are always on November 11 when we play outdoors at the Remembrance Day ceremonies, no matter how cold it is,” says director
of music Dennis Colpitts. “I love to program a wide variety of music, and I think the band enjoys that as well. We do marches, concertos, big band, Dixieland, Broadway musicals and classical.”

Colpitts, an obvious expert at multi-tasking, has made incredible contributions to the music scene over the years. A graduate of the UBC department of music with blended majors in trumpet, voice and conducting, he taught music in the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan at all levels of the school system, also conducting the Kelowna City Band from 1992 to 2000 and the orchestra of Trinity Baptist Church from 1998 to 2008.

Following his retirement in 2011, he returned to the Kelowna City Band in 2010 as conductor. “The most rewarding aspect of the band is the enjoyment I see the band members get when they get together each week to practice.” “It’s both fun and hard work. We’re a very social group,” says Lucy Benwell who moved to Canada from England in 2011. Involved in music for almost 40 years, she has played clarinet, saxophone and percussion in the band for the past three years. “Music is a huge part of my life and a great way to meet people, so many different characters from all walks of life in one room. Thee hard work comes when challenging pieces seem daunting, but only serve to make us improve as a unit. And there are fun moments in rehearsal, when we all laugh together.”

My most proud moments are always on November 11 when we play outdoors at the Remembrance Day ceremonies, no matter how cold it is.”

Dennis Colpitts
Director of music

Meanwhile in Penticton…

Going strong since 1910, the Penticton Concert Band currently has 48 members. After 34 years teaching middle school and high school band programs, Dave Brunelle began as music director of the Penticton Concert Band in October 2015, taking over from long time director Gerald Nadeau. “Gerald was instrumental in getting a beginner community band to where it is now musically,” he says. “Music is a lifelong pastime. The band gives community members the opportunity to pick up their band instruments many years a er leaving school programs.” His connection to schools still strong, Brunelle says the band encourages music in the schools by co-sponsoring joint concerts with high school programs.

Lead alto saxophone and band publicity coordinator Susan Norrie also supports educational programs. “Music by far connects more of one’s brain than any other known creative activity, especially when you are learning or performing it,” she says. “If everyone was aware of this, I think there would be so much more support for music in the schools and communities.”

Norrie speaks from personal experi ence. “As a school-aged kid, I played piano, recorder, clarinet, alto sax and then guitar. I had lessons on clarinet and saxophone in school, and one year of piano.” Since 1980 Norrie has played in various bands and ensembles on Vancouver Island, in the Lower Mainland and now in the Okanagan. Locally she performs with Martin Street Jazz Friends and with fellow sax player Don Wade. What has she learned from a life of music? “I have to constantly adjust to my fellow players, in terms of sound, balance and intonation. at can be a challenge. You have to really listen. I think I’ve learned to play with much more emotion coming through the music, especially solo parts.”

If you’re worried that extensive training is necessary to join a band, think again. Andrew Church, who plays trombone and euphonium, says he has no formal music training, but has been singing and playing for more than 50 years. “Performing and practicing with the band is the best feeling of the week. It leaves me satisfied, exhilarated, challenged and with a sense of accomplishment,” says Church.

Matt Falk, music teacher.
Matt Falk directing the Similkameen Elementary Secondary School Band.

And in the North Okanagan…

Over the years Vernon has supported the Fire Brigade Band, Okanagan Mounted Rifles, the Navy Cadet Band, the BC Horse Band, The Girls Trumpet Band and the Kalamalka Highlanders. But in 1920, a group of musicians gathered to form the first Vernon City Band.

Corrie Bauml, 20 years with the band on clarinet and alto saxophone, got her start, like many others, in a school band, with help from private lessons and personal perseverance. “I picked up my instrument 10 years after high school and found the love of it greater than it ever was. I play for my love of playing with others and for a break from being mom. Music is a great learning tool. It keeps our minds active and our bodies engaged. It is good for breathing and small motor skills. All ages can participate together. Every nationality and ability. We need music more than ever in this age of blended nationalities, aging populations and technology overload.”

Her band mate, fellow clarinetist Anne-Marie Kanester, also got her start in her high school in Victoria. After playing in a community band in Dawson Creek for 10 years, she moved to Vernon and joined the band in 2002. “It’s a great way to meet new musicians and keep improving my playing,” she says. “Our conductor, Toni Rose, is an awesome musician. She keeps us working on a variety of modern and classical pieces. And with her, making music is always fun.”

Kamloops or bust…

Latecomers to the scene, the Kamloops Community Band was founded in 2001 by Dick Dickens, supported
by Cli Noakes, as an option for high school students to supplement their high school program and university students and adults who wanted to play in a community band. Since the passing of Dickens in 2009, Noakes has taken the reigns with Don Bennett.

Final message? It’s never too late.

Now, please excuse me. I’m off to tune my guitar and strum a few Joni Mitchell tunes.

Music trains brain power

  1. Improves verbal memory
  2. Benefits brain plasticity throughout lifespan
  3. Improves white matter connectivity
  4. Increases blood flow in the brain
  5. Improves executive function
  6. Thickens gray matter of the cortex
  7. Orchestrates coordinated neuroplasticity in the aging brain
  8. Reduces academic achievement gap


As seen in

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