The longest standing community youth band in Canada recently celebrated its 90th birthday.
Founded in 1930, the West Vancouver Youth Band has a long and illustrious legacy, touring the world extensively, becoming the official band of West Vancouver in 1995, and commissioning/premiering dozens of original work from composers. The current director, Douglas Macaulay is the longest serving at 30 years, passing only the legendary Arthur Delamont (active 1933-1958).
While the COVID-19 pandemic put a brief pause on 90th anniversary celebrations in 2020, the band kept rehearsing at home and online, and they have a huge year ahead.
One of the most exciting aspects of the WVYB is their recent collaboration with the Squamish Nation (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw). “Our work with the Squamish Nation was originally planned to be a single event,” Macauley said. “I approached an Elder I know and asked if they would be willing to share a traditional song for us to re-imagine for our band and then perform together. The result was The Gathering Of Eagles.”
The complete piece was performed with Eagle Song Dancers (Spakwus Slolem) in 2018 to great success. “This work was published worldwide by Hal Leonard and immediately became a top selling work for band. Following this success, we decided to extend the project and added two more works: Wolf Song and The Raven. Together, the three pieces form The Squamish Symphony. This project is the first of its kind. The WVYB continues to develop a legacy that extends far beyond the walls of our rehearsal hall and our own community.”
The full performance of the Squamish Symphony is available on WVYB’s YouTube page, but the band is just getting started, with a tour of performances across Canada in the year ahead, all the way from Victoria, B.C. to St. John’s, Newfoundland. We asked Macauley to tell us more about the band and what’s in store for 2023.
Can you tell us about your own personal history with WVYB?
I began with the band in 1993. At the time, the band was struggling. Numbers were down (36 total members) and the quality of music making was at a low point. I developed a three- and five-year plan and started rebuilding. We are now over 200 members and have built (in partnership with the district of West Vancouver) a new, purpose built, acoustically designed rehearsal hall, The WVYB Community Music Hall, designed to seat 120 musicians comfortably.
What do you have going on this year that’s exciting?
During the pandemic, we had only two concerts in two years. Then last spring, we had 11 in three months as things restarted. Since September, we’ve had our full season schedule. We’ve led the Remembrance Day parade and ceremony, performed for the civic Christmas tree lighting, the civic menorah lighting and our own winter concert. Next week (January 2023), we are doing a special performance for Lunar New Year with guest artists from Vancouver’s Asian community.
What do you love about WVYB?
My favourite thing about the WVYB is the sense of community amongst the musicians. Our musicians come from schools across Vancouver’s north shore as well as Vancouver. They form a remarkable community who support each other and form friendships that carry on long after their time in the band. They are also connected to history as they see the photos and video of the WVYB over its 93 year history. Many alumni come back and sit in with the band on occasion making a direct connection.
What do you see WVYB members getting out of travel?
Travel has always been an important part of the WVYB—from its first band camp in 1931, to its win at the Kierkegaard, Holland band festival in 1958, to its Gold medal and first place standing at the Hawaii International Festival in 2001 and several concert tours of Europe since 2007.
Do you have a travel highlight that stands out?
Traveling as a group has had a profound effect on all those who participate in WVYB tours. Seeing the students take in an entirely new reality is extraordinary. I recall an occasion when we had just arrived in Germany and the students were just wandering in the area just outside our hostel; one young man was standing on a bridge over the river and was teary eyed. We asked if everything was ok and he said, “It’s all just so beautiful.” There have been many moments from the silly to the profound during our travels: from sunburns in Hawaii to the absolute silence on our bus after performing a concert of remembrance on the Vimy Ridge Memorial; from a scavenger hunt in Heidelberg to earning top marks at a festival in Calgary; and from visiting the medieval torture museum in Germany to touring Mozart’s home in Austria.
What do you like about Ellison Travel & Tours?
We began working with Ellison Travel and Tours because of their commitment to ethics and transparency. Although the exceptional service Ellison consistently provides is wonderful, it is the trust that we value most. When we travel as a group, we are handing over the care of our students as well as tens of thousands of dollars to a travel provider. With Ellison, we always know that the bus will be on time, that the accommodations will be good and that the concerts and activities will be engaging and fun, but more importantly, we can be confident in the trust we place in them will be valued and never taken for granted.
Traveling with my group of 80 or more musicians is exhausting and exhilarating. It’s a privilege to see them grow and mature at an accelerated pace as they learn to exist in an unfamiliar place, away from their families. The students form bonds that improve the culture of our organization and friendships within our group and with people they meet while traveling that last a lifetime.
This story originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of Teach & Travel.