Christmas in Toronto

December was a busy month for the Canadian Staff Band (Bandmaster John Lam) as the group was on duty for two annual Christmas events on back-to-back Saturdays.

Christmas with the Salvation Army

First up was the annual Christmas with the Salvation Army program at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall. This year’s guests were Barbara and Steve Allen for Los Angeles, who inspired the audience with a selection of items. Starting with It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Barbara then moved into Who Would Imagine a King before concluding her first set with a sing-along medley, arranged and accompanied by her husband, Steve, on the piano. Later in the program she delighted the audience by recruiting a volunteer to assist her as she present Christmas on the Beach in Malibu, which came on the heels of Big Band Santa and proved to be a real highlight of the evening. Elsewhere on the program Barbara was the featured soloist with the festival chorus, piano and Staff Band in a new Leonard Ballantine arrangement of More Than Wonderful, and, to close out the evening, a setting of the contemporary worship song Adonai.

The festival chorus was in fine form again this year. In addition to providing descants for the congregational carols, the group presented three other items – Little Lord Jesus Is Born (John Wells, arr. Leonard Ballantine), For Unto Us a Child Is Born from Handel’s Messiah, and a new setting of the Huron Carol, also arranged by Leonard Ballantine. Accompaniment was provided by Bill Way on piano and Elizabeth Colley on flute, with drums, bass and guitar as required. The selection from Messiah was accompanied by organist Giles Bryant, who also played for the congregational carols, along with the Staff Band, in the familiar David Willcocks arrangements.

The Staff Band’s main contributions to the evening were Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium (arr. Leonard Ballantine), accompanying the timbrels with the march The Carollers (Richard E. Holz), and the world premiere of a new work by Robert Redhead, written for this concert. Entitled Christ Is Born!, it features numerous carols, including A Great and Mighty Wonder (Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming), Huron Carol, A Child This Day Is Born and Unto Us a Child Is Born. Starting simply, the music built to a majestic and glorious conclusion with the peal of bells and rich, sonorous chords echoing off the walls of Roy Thomson Hall.

Also appearing were dramatist Colin Fox, who presented a series of readings; the Territorial Commander for Canada and Bermuda, Commissioner William Francis, who brought a devotional message; and Ontario Lieutenant-Governor David Onley, who brought greetings and thanked the Salvation Army for its valuable work in the community.

Christmas Carol Concert

A week later, the Staff Band was off to St. Paul’s Church for the 31st annual Christmas Carol Concert, an event which is always packed to capacity for both performances and helps the Toronto Star provide gift boxes to 45,000 underprivileged children in the greater Toronto area.

Once again this year, conductor emeritus Giles Bryant was in fine form, leading the massed choirs and congregation in the usual carols with band and organ. The Staff Band’s contributions were A Great and Mighty Wonder (Kenneth Downie) and O Magnum Mysterium. Both items were very well received.

Canadian Staff Band web site