Special to the Arrow Lakes News
Music and history are often intertwined. From the dawn of humanity we’ve been banging rocks together and slapping the dirt, singing and dancing. Songs and dances play an important part in many a culture’s history, and today, of course, it’s in the air and in your head almost 24/7. Whether that’s a good thing or whether the chorus of We Built This City has been driving you to madness since senior year in ‘85 is another matter.
Though the presence of music itself has been a constant, the distribution and experience of it has changed drastically. People like to complain that modern music sucks, and that’s neither here nor there; but the fact is, it’s easier and cheaper now than ever to experience any kind of music you want. If it exists, it’s been digitized and uploaded for perusal and purchase. Classical, rock, pop, tibetan throat singing, three goats chewing grass while a man who hasn’t slept in weeks languidly paws at a ukulele… 2018 is a great time to be a music fan, as long as you turn off the radio.
But of course that’s only the result of years of changes and innovation. Fly back to the early days of recorded music, with pre-vinyl records ruling the scene over the wax cylinders that had been the standard. When music wasn’t something you had on hand at all times… unless you wanted to play it yourself.
And so, they did. The year is 1911, and after a meeting at the barbershop of one famous citizen Eugene Leveque, the Nakusp Brass Band is formed. Their first instruments were purchased from the Nelson band, the money being raised by interested townsfolk. The roster were as pictured, with more members soon to come. One such addition was Leveque’s son, who wrote the account of the band’s early years from which this article is derived.
Veteran band leader Ernie Lamerton came to town and took over duties as the head of the group. Their first big “event” was a concert at the opera house in August of 1912, intended to raise funds. It went over well enough that they were engaged to play the fall fair the next month. Some more important events included playing for the funeral of Sam Henry, owner of the town’s gardens, and celebrating the arrival of the first train from Kaslo. Leveque describes that day, the first of July, 1914;
“The band was playing, the sun was shining, the baseball fans were rooting, there was lots of lemonade and pop corn and ice cream. Everyone was hot and sweaty and happy—-and so were we!”
We’ve mentioned the baseball team before here in the paper, and indeed, the band was a longtime companion of them, loading up into steamers and heading to other towns for some friendly competition. Leveque sums up the attitude of the band, which wasn’t near professional but was enthusiastic, and doubtless appreciated;
“I’ll wager Sousa’s high-priced aggregation never gave its listeners any greater pleasure than did our little band of sore-lipped amateurs on these excursions.”
Unfortunately, the beginning of the first world war rocked every town, and Nakusp was no exception. The band played dutifully on as their number dwindled, headed off from the familiar shores of the Arrow Lakes to ones bloody and uncertain. One by one, they played for their departing friends, until all that was left was five or six of the men and boys unable to go. The end of the war saw most of the men return, but not without taking its price.
Still, the band bounced back. Today our schools teach the art of the instrument to any student who wishes to learn (and many students who don’t), and our Canada Day parades are seldom without a musical accompaniment. Nakusp’s band, like many of its first and finest establishments, was a textbook lesson of what joy can come from a few people with the right attitude—and some gumption besides.