Christmas in Toronto

As usual, the Canadian Staff Band (Bandmaster John Lam) had a busy month leading up to Christmas, with a parade and three major Christmas concerts in and around Toronto.

For the ninth year in a row, the Staff Band participated as a part of a massed Salvation Army band for the Toronto Santa Claus Parade (17 November 2013). As always, crowds lined the route and cheered the band on as it sounded forth the message of the Christmas season.

On Saturday, 7 December 2013, the Staff Band performed at the 35th annual Carol Concert at St. Paul’s Anglican Church. This event encompasses two performances and helps the Toronto Star provide Christmas gift boxes to needy children in the Toronto area. In addition to accompanying carols sung by the audience, Staff Band contributions included The Bells of Christmas (Stephen Bulla) and a new piece by Kevin Larsson, entitled A Christmas Overture. This item features a medley of carols, including “Joy to the World”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Silent Night”, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and a bouncy swing version of “The First Nowell”.

The next evening, Sunday, 8 December 2013, was Let’s Celebrate Christmas, an event held at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Arts. This Salvation Army-sponsored community concert featured the Staff Band, Upper Canada Chorus and young people from the Richmond Hill Corps. Contributions from the Staff Band included Farandole (Bizet, arr. Richard Phillips), Prelude on a Hymn of Praise (James Curnow), A Christmas Overture (Kevin Larsson) and Winter’s Snow (Philip Rayment).

The following week, on Saturday, 14 December 2013, was the annual Christmas with the Salvation Army program at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. Despite the first major winter storm of the season to hit southern Ontario, all of the participants were able to get to Toronto for the event, and the audience was only mildly affected as people braved the elements to enjoy what has become a highlight of the Christmas season.

The guests for this year’s program included vocalist Marjory Watson from the UK (making her second appearance at this event), organist Ian Sadler and the Toronto Northern Lights Chorus, an award-winning barbershop chorus directed by Steven Armstrong.

Watson showed her versatility, singing items ranging from The Night that Christ Was Born (Kirk Franklin) with the Festival Chorus to the popular holiday song I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Other items presented by Watson included Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song) (Chris Eaton/Amy Grant) and Saviour’s Day (Chris Eaton).

The Toronto Northern Lights amazed the audience with their renditions of both classical and popular songs, including I Saw Three Ships, Mary Did You Know?, The Prayer (featuring soloist Jordan Travis), a medley of Jingle Bells and Sleigh Ride, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Their singing was spectacular and it was easy to see why they won the top prize at an international barbershop chorus competition earlier in the year.

The Festival Chorus, conducted by Major Leonard Ballantine, was one of the largest in recent years. They presented several contrasting items, including A Starry Night (Joy Webb, arr. Andrew Mackereth), In the Face of a Child (John Gowans/John Larsson) and Harold Darke’s classic setting of In the Bleak Midwinter. The chorus also played a supportive role with guest soloist Marjory Watson in The Night That Christ Was Born and Gift-Wrapped Love (Rob Little/David Catherwood). Primary accompaniment for the Festival Chorus was provided by Bill Way (piano), Kevin Metcalf (bass) and Gord Mayer (drums). The Staff Band joined in on two of the items, using special arrangements by Major Ken Smith. Organist Ian Sadler accompanied the chorus for In the Bleak Midwinter.

In addition to accompanying, with the organist, the audience for the carols O Come, All Ye Faithful (arr. Willcocks) and Joy to the World (trans. Kevin Hayward), the Staff Band also presented two contrasting feature items. Eric Ball’s masterful The Kingdom Triumphant featured a special video presentation prepared by Kim Garreffa of the Music and Arts Department and included the organ joining in for the majestic final verse of “Helmsley” at the end. The second item was A Christmas Overture (Kevin Larsson). The Staff Band also accompanied Marjory Watson in Saviour’s Day and the London Citadel Timbrels, led by Staff Band alumna Serena Doars, in Three Kings Swing (William Himes).

Canadian Staff Band web site