MICHAEL HADLEY’S MEMORIES
“Discipline in D: memoirs of Arthur Delamont, an extraordinary man”
(European tours 1950 & 1953)
April 22, 2000
I never understood why Mr. D decided to take me on the 1950 trip. In fact, I still don’t. It all began when a white-haired man came to Point Grey Junior High School to recruit youngsters to play “in a band.” Wonderful idea! I had never ever done such a thing. And under the inspiration of an uncle who had played the bugle in the Army I was ready to launch into a career. I chose the trumpet.
Thus, Monday after Monday I joined a rag-tag-and-bob-tail group of largely uncoordinated instruments which oom pah ed and screeched their way through school band versions of “Colonel Bogey” and “The Imperial Eagle.” In between I practiced at home on such memorable fare as “I’ve been working on the railroad,” “Sweet Annie Laurie” and scales, scales, scales. I can still picture Mr. D pacing up and down behind the long line of would-be instrumentalists seated on the stage in the old school auditorium. Playing his silver cornet with left hand only, he would beat time with his right (and occasionally thump some laggard or ‘fat head’ on the shoulder).
Then followed the daunting experience of private lessons with Mr. D, my affection for this blustery perfectionist was tinged with awe, and a strong sense of my own inadequacy. Humility, I guess you’d call it. Mondays after school would find me bicycling to the Delamont home with trumpet strapped to handle-bars – butterflies in my stomach becoming increasingly active as I approached the house on the hill overlooking Alma corner and the harbor. He’d sit beside me in his studio, recount an anecdote or two to settle me down – and then the workout would begin. “Won’t you?, Won’t you?” I still hear him saying, while he waved his right hand up and down. (He was actually saying, “One two, one two!” while beating time – but I thought he was merely being polite).
And then, before I could quite understand what was happening I had become a member of four bands – Point Grey, North Van, West Van, and one on Keefer Street. Apparently Mr. D had phoned my parents to ask whether he could take me to England with the Kits Band. My Dad’s observation that he didn’t think I was good enough met with a characteristic rebuttal: “That’s my decision.” And it was. The demands sometimes seemed more than I could handle: concerts and rehearsals with each of these bands, together with continuing private lessons.
Not long after this rigorous regime had begun, Mr. D presented me with an upright alto horn. Actually, to say he “presented” me with a horn is rather overstated. For, one evening as I stepped into the Keefer Street Band’s practice hall with trumpet in hand I was told quite simply – and directly – “Here, blow this.” I pulled a battered old upright with a slightly crumpled bell out of a malodorous canvas bag — and my happy career as a horn player began. Not long after that I acquired a mellophone, and slipped into the second stand of the Kits Band. (I continued to play with the other bands as I sorely needed the experience).
Most of the Kits Band members had earned the privilege of the 1950 trip to England, Scotland and Holland (lively recollections of “the Hollywood Trip” were still all the rage). I, by contrast, seemed to have made a dock-side leap onto a stage already well served by experienced and competent young musicians. I was only thirteen, and still green. I’d celebrate my 14th on tour.
My first concert with the Kits Band was memorable for many reasons, not least of all for a rap on the knuckles. Call it the beginnings of wisdom, if you like. The curtain was about to go up in the Orpheum Theatre when Mr. D held a last-minute conference about a possible change of program. “Alright, boys, we’ll take either (then followed some choices) or …” (and then a couple more). In my enthusiasm for the occasion – and also a touch of vanity at being asked what I wanted to play – I suggested in my high-pitched voice that “We’d better do William Tell.” D’s dark scowl and sharp rebuke flashed across the stage. “Listen here, young fella,” he growled as he capered indignantly on his toes and threw his baton onto his music stand. From then on I knew the value of ill-informed opinions! Ultimately, we did “do Tell”, but only because the lead stands recommended it.
The old man could be brisk and critical, of course, calling us all kinds of colorful biblical names like ‘Deuteronomy’ whenever piqued; He was ‘tough love’ without apology. But equally memorable is his beatifically radiant smile when the music was right, or at the sheer pleasure of a joke or a special human encounter. I found him an excellent teacher: he set high standards, drove till he got what he wanted, and nurtured those who met his criteria. Like others before me and since, I warmed to him.
The 1950 trip is a matter of record. Suffice it to say that it remains a pivotal experience in my life: musically, culturally and emotionally. It marked as well the beginnings of strong intellectual interests that would inform my life. Following that, I went on the 1953 European Tour as First Horn, and would have been taken on the next overseas tour as well (playing trumpet) if I had not entered the navy in 1954 while at UBC.
Though relations between Mr. D and myself were almost always invariably good, they were not always smooth sailing. I no longer remember the details, but at one point we had hurt each other rather badly and I wanted to quit. So, I folded up my Kits Band uniform and delivered it to his door. Mrs. D answered the bell and accepted both the bundle and my faltering excuse. But she was soon on the phone, saying: of course, Mr D was angry and upset, but I had been overhasty and perhaps not a little sharp-edged. Back I went to the Delamont house to ask for my uniform back. “Not till you’ve asked him; he’s in the garage.” she insisted. The dark look, the reprimand, my apology, and the offer of my old uniform: that’s all I really remember. But I do understand the wonderful feeling of reconciliation. Much later when I had left the Kitsilano Boys Band for my next stage of life (study, playing my trumpet at gigs, or in the UBC Big Band), I kept in touch with Mr. D. Two occasions in particular come to mind.
In 1958 I received one of the most extraordinary telegrams that had ever come my way. At the time I was working for the Department of Trade and Commerce at the Canadian Pavilion in Brussels, Belgium. It was the “Universal and International Exhibition,” and the Kits Band was again on tour in the UK. The thrust of the message ran something like this: “arriving Brussels in ten days time, require accommodation for 39 boys, plus double accommodation for Band mothers and spouses including self and wife, and Gordon, wife, and daughter; also urgently require engagements. Regards, Delamont.”
The Brussels Fair had long since been attracting crowds of visitors and performers of all kinds; accommodation was at a premium, and Mr. D had a budget that was not being helped by a Musicians’ Union strike in the UK. In short, I managed to bring it off: engagements, accommodation, and a reception by the Commissioner General for Canada on one occasion, and the Belgian hosts of the Exhibition on another. But there was a sadly moving side to the visit as well. Mrs. D (Lillian) was very ill – perhaps she had been so long before the tour began. No longer always clear in her mind she needed medical care. I called the doctor and met him in their accommodation: a small room in a tourist lodge. Serving as their interpreter (French/English) during the medical examination and consultation I found myself involved in their private lives in ways I could never have imagined. I was deeply touched by the sharing. I knew at the time that I was giving gifts such as I had once received from them.
Mr. D and I met again in Hamburg, Germany, in 1961 when he was planning a European tour. I was based at the time as a Visa Officer in the Canadian Embassy, in Cologne, but travelled frequently throughout Germany giving public lectures and press conferences. He flew from Britain, where he was trying to arrange bookings for the following tour. Of course, by then the old Moss-Empire vaudeville circuit in which the Band had appeared from 1939 through 1953 had disappeared, television was giving stage shows tough competition, and in many cases even park concerts were no longer possible. I recall drinking tea in his hotel room discussing possible concerts and program on the continent for 1962.
There was silence for about year when in 1962 another Musicians Union Strike in the UK caught the Band off guard and triggered another memorable telegram from Mr. D: “arriving in Cologne in 10 days, require accommodation for 39 boys and [etc etc]…. Urgently require engagements. Regards, Delamont.” And, of course, it all took place. I recall in particular a hurried meeting between the Musical Director of West German Radio and Mr. D and myself in order to select material for a one-hour live program (How different from the time I had urged Mr. D to “do William Tell” at the Orpheum). Then we were on the air. During my commentaries with the German announcer I sat near Mr. D, who kept looking my way for confirmation of timing and cues. The ‘live’ performance was excellent.
But this tour had its tragic side. This was the first tour in which a boy lost his life. During innocent horse-play in their ‘digs’ in Paris one of the lads incurred a fatal head injury. No one realized the seriousness of his condition until he fell into a coma hours later. Medical aid came too late. Alerted by a member of staff that some ‘tussling’ had gone on, the French police arrested another boy under suspicion of murder. It was a dreadful situation. The Band had to leave Paris for engagements in Cologne, leaving one of their members dead, and another in jail. I recall conversations between me in my office in Cologne and my colleague in the Canadian Embassy in Paris trying to sort matters out. I especially recall the release of the bandsman, and his joyous arrival on the railway platform in Cologne under a tumultuous welcome from the Band. But Mr. D was worried: parents at home were wanting to end the tour and bring the band home immediately. He and I consulted at length, sometimes over tea in our apartment, and he decided to carry on. That was his style. And to my mind his decision was correct.
A final memory of a grand gesture: My wife and I lived with our one-year old daughter in an apartment on a street called Deutscher Ring, Cologne, just a few steps from the Rhine River, and near the hostel where the Band was put up. The Band had just completed a park concert, and was marching ‘home’. Knowing that I had just returned from the office, Mr. D — with white suit and silver cornet — marched the Band right past our low balcony on which I stood with my wife and baby girl. Striking up one of the old favorite numbers, he saluted and, smiling one of those incomparably radiant smiles, marched on.
And now for the Coda: I have been a professor for some thirty years. When I stood in the West Block of the House of Commons in Ottawa in 1998 to be inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada – the highest academic honor in the country – I did not stand alone. One of the great spirits who had played a major role in who I am was also there: Mr. D.
From him I had learned that at any given stage of my life I always had more music in me than I ever thought; that with discipline and the courage to accept competent criticism I could make that music actually sing; and that whatever my ‘music’ might be in my different careers – naval officer, foreign service officer, author, professor – it would become richer by my listening closely to all the other players around me. Mediocrity was never an option. Mr. D’s greatest gifts lay in teaching me to work within the music, to set high standards, and to accept the responsibilities of a disciplined life. And if my own life is any example, as a teacher, and, latterly, a social activist, he taught me as well to risk investing in the raw potential of other human beings. How else could I explain the impact of four short years in the Kitsilano Boys Band.
ABOVE: 2000, Michael Hadley right.