The term celebration of life might refer to a memorial service for a loved one, a party, or even a parade. Over a six-day period from May 21st to May 27 the Tomato Soup Band, experienced all three.
We began the week with Thamesford’s Calithumpian Parade, celebrating the birthday of Queen Victoria, born May 24th, 1819. The word Calithumpian has its origin in Britain in the early 1800’s. It referred to a "spontaneous parade celebrating an event, with participants often acting like buffoons, marching to the banging of pots and pans." Does anything in that remind you of the Tomato Soup Band? Who knew that our soup pot had such interesting ancestry. Dirk De Vries, our soup pot player, ever the star of our show, was there banging the pot and putting the thump in Calithumpian.
If all creative effort is art, then a parade is the art of the people. The variety and creativity in parade art is a delight. In Thamesford, a Peterbilt "semi" truck carries a rock band; a 30 ton Kenworth cement mixer, appears in pastel pink. For every ten cubic yards of cement poured, a donation is made to breast cancer research. An ancient two cylinder John Deer tractor put-puts along bringing a smile to any farmer over 65. Tractor-drawn trailers are crowded with waving Cub Scouts and Girl Guides; Mocha Shrine members hunker down in wildly painted "Love Bugs" or ride miniature police cars, fire engines and formula one race cars, blowing horns and popping wheelies. A small almost unnoticed float, a David among Goliaths, carries hand written posters warning that if a new highspeed rail line between Windsor and Toronto is built, too much precious farmland will be lost. Members of the Oxford Re-enactment Society walk by looking like they had just stepped out of the set of a Shakespearian play at Stratford. People dressed as Star Wars’ Princess Leia, Chewbacca, take a friendly walk with arch-enemies Darth Vader and the Imperial Storm Troopers. In spite of the 30 degree heat they stay after the parade for selfies. All this and much more, moving along to the tunes of a Scottish pipe band from Ingersoll, a Caribbean-style steel drum band from London and our Dutch Heritage band.
Would Queen Victoria, have been pleased? What would she be thinking if she were there watching? Oh, there is one more thing about Calithumpian parades you might or might not want to know. According to the Thamesford web page, these parades in 19th century England, were sometimes the spontaneous celebrations that followed public hangings. Oops! So, I expect that the Queen would be both relieved and pleased that there had not been a hanging, and that capital punishment had been banned. She would marvel that in at least one of the bands, a pot was still being banged with a spoon. She might even ask for a "selfie" with Dirk, just for old times sake. In her wildest imagination she would not have envisioned just how many changes had taken place in the last 200 years. It would not take long for her to realize that while we have more than enough problems that need our attention, life, both in her country and ours, two centuries later, is infinitely better. For that also we celebrate; for that also we blow the horn, beat the drum, and bang the pot.
The Portuguese Club provided the food and the drinks at the Azores Cultural Center, where we now practice. We provided the music. To the band, that’s a party. It was an excellent way for band members, their spouses, friends or family members to end a very warm week in May. We brought our musical instruments, so after the meal we gathered for a few musical numbers. When band leader Stew Taylor announced our concluding number, "Alpen Express," there was a call from some members of the audience for Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline." How often does that happen? Then again, Does Celine Dion leave the stage without a call for "My Heart Will go on"? Could Leonard Cohen end a concert without a request for "Hallelujah?" OK, OK, I know it’s not the same, but it was gratifying to know that we are becoming known for more than "Beer Barrel Polka" and "Alpen Express."
The evening featured a surprise presentation to retiring band members Julie Juffermans and Harry Brouwer. Band President Martin Van Der Mark presented them with framed certificates acknowledging their combined half century contribution to the life and work of the band.
Julie, our cymbal player, joined the band when it began 26 years ago. She also served for a time as the band treasurer. As the only woman in the band, until recently, she became the band mother; straightening scarves and turning down collars, trying, often in vain, to get us to look half way presentable. On long bus rides she was there passing out soda crackers or mints. She was always there with a "hello", a smile, a hug and a "Thanks for coming."
Harry Brower played saxophone for the 24 years that he was with the band. He was and is also a dedicated patron. He took the major part in planning, arranging, and fund raising for the band’s two trips to the Netherlands. Harry was never short of ideas and not shy about sharing them. He was the go-to-guy when something needed to be done. His recent contribution was getting us a great deal on new band jackets including bringing Toyota on board as a sponsor.
We say a heartfelt "thank you" to both Julie and Harry and wish them good health and happiness in their retirement from the band. We look forward to keeping in touch and seeing them at our social events.
We were not finished with surprises. Just when we were expecting the party to wind down, four of our band members had other ideas. John Resendes who plays sax or tuba in the band, brought along his accordian. He was joined by our bass guitar player Joe Bondoso, and band members Sharon Weams and Martin Van Der Mark on percussion. It was an exciting new sound, even for this quartet, since that was their first time playing together. John, obviously, was in his musical element. The other three followed like the musical veterans that they are. Their version of "Roll out the Barrel" certainly had "the blues on the run." The rendition of "Delilah" would have been the envy of singer Tom Jones. And those were just the first two numbers. They were not just playing the music, they were at play. The fun they were having was obvious and contagious.
An evening that began with food and a drink, that was infused with friendly chat, gratitude and lively music, was a gift to body and spirit; as parties go, definitely a winner; indeed, an evening of celebration.
"All men will be sailors until the sea shall free them." Leonard Cohen in Suzanne.
Celebration of Life: The Memorial Service for
Donald John Wright 1933-2018.
Memorial services have become "Celebrations of Life." This is not to ignore the gravity of grief. Loss hurts. It is felt deeply, and daily. Our love to Donna and family especially at this time.
Grieving is also sharing the stories. In the sharing, the life of the loved one is celebrated. The sense of celebration came early as we gathered for the service for former band member Don Wright. As I walked through the lobby of Needham’s funeral home I could hear a clarinet. "Nice touch," I thought, "they have the music of Artie Shaw or Jimmy Dorsey playing as a prelude. Then as I turned the corner there it was, a wall sized video of Don Wright on clarinet in front of a small back up band. The video was shot in Texas where Don and Donna spent many winter vacations.
Don was born in England and came to Canada in 1953. He started his musical career at age 14 and played in the Sherwood Foresters’ band in England. In Canada he was a member of the Canadian Guard band and the Royal Canadian Regiment band in Ottawa, the band that accompanied the changing of the guard on Parliament Hill. In London he was part of the Mocha Shine Band and at the age of 80 he joined the Tomato Soup Band.
Don was a bandmaster’s dream. He could play a number of instruments, so wherever he was needed, be it on trumpet, clarinet, sax, or baritone, he was there to help out.
At the Celebration of Life service, the Rev. Jeff Hicks used the text from Ecclesiastes 3: "There is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to harvest etc." Through the service I kept thinking of Don’s favourite musical number, "Anchor’s Aweigh" and when I heard the selected reading I thought if the Hebrews had been a seafaring people, the writer may have added "There is a time to throw out anchors and a time to haul them up." To "weigh anchor" as we know, was to lift it to prepare to sail.
I never asked why this was a favourite. Perhaps it was the way it swings, or sounds. I am wondering if there might have been something more fundamental. We spend a good part of our lives dropping anchors to make life secure, safe and somewhat predictable. Life is also about risk-taking, about new learning, about looking for new seas to navigate. The latter describes Don.
He moved to Canada when he was 20, served with the military in the Suez, became an OPP officer and finished his working career with the London Transit Commission. He used to say he liked the Tomato Soup band because he never knew what was going to happen. He told me that he and Donna would take one day a week, gas up the car and head out of London not knowing exactly where they were going. They would spend the day exploring a different part of the country. Finally, well into his 80’s he began to learn to play the cello. It’s called life long learning.
When in hospital during those last few weeks, a nurse asked Don why he wanted to learn to play the cello. His reply, and we can just see the twinkle in his eye, was, "When I get to heaven, I want to play in a band, and just in case they have a preference for stringed instruments, I will be prepared."
So thanks Don for the music and for much, much more. Since the last anchor has been lifted, we say, "Bon Voyage!" and "Play on Don, just play on!"