Delamont in the Community – the making of a legend!


1935-0016 Page 14 (Delamonts Mass Band)

The best way to assure the longevity of your band or musical organization is to make it an integral part of your community. It is up to every musical director to carve a niche for his organization within the community. How big a niche, depends on the director but the bigger the better. Every music educator should ask himself, if my organization disappeared tomorrow, would it be missed in the community and I don’t mean by the parents of your band members? I think eighty percent of bands today would not be missed in their community because they have not bothered to make their program an integral part of their community’s activities.

If a musical organization is viable only in a classroom, then it will have to justify its value, the same as any other course in the curriculum. But if it has established itself within the community as well and has been seen over a number of years, to be a valuable asset in the lives of the people in the community, then it will be more than likely to survive. Even school administrators will see its value, especially if it shines a positive light on the school. Administrators like to have something they can hold up and show off to others. It instills in them a sense that they are doing something right, even if they don’t have anything to do with the music program.

No one was ever more visible in the community with his bands than Arthur Delamont. Starting with his first band in 1928, the General Gordon School Band he got them uniforms and taught them a couple of marches and had them march in the homecoming parade for sprinter Percy Williams, who had just returned from the Commonwealth Games. They didn’t sound like much. When a school administrator was asked what she thought of their playing, she replied, “Oh those little dears.” But within three years, he had built the band up strong enough to enter them in the Provincial Music Festival in Victoria and win, making those little dears the Provincial Junior Band Champions of B.C. That same summer he took them on their first major tour by train across Canada to Toronto, where they entered the Nationals beating out several Toronto area bands in their class to become the Junior Band Champions of Canada. At every whistle stop along the route back they got out and played for the passengers. At the CN Rail station on Hastings Street when they returned, there was a large crowd waiting for them and several bands playing.

For the next two years, Delamont had them playing all over Vancouver, to raise enough money to travel to Chicago for the Chicagoland Band Festival at the Chicago World’s Fair, in the summer of 1933. When the adjudicators read the scores of the ten competing bands, they were twenty-three and a half points ahead of their nearest rivals the Chicago Boys Band. That made them the Junior Band Champions of the World. That night they performed before one hundred thousand spectators at Soldier’s Field. For the remainder of their time in Chicago, Arthur had them playing at various venues around the fair. Again, when they returned to Vancouver they received a royal welcome at the CN station, complete with performing bands and well-wishers.

After winning the Junior band Championship of the World, every community in Vancouver wanted Delamont to start or take over a band in their community. Whether it was his idea as part of a master plan or the idea came to him after all the offers, I do not know but as a result, within three years, he had seven bands under his baton, these are the bands you see in the photo above. His Kitsilano band sounded so good, that everyone wanted to emulate their sound. At his peak in the mid 1930s, he was the director of the West Vancouver, North Vancouver, Grandview, Point Grey and another General Gordon School Band and he even started the Vancouver Girls Band, made up mostly of the sisters and friends of boys in his Kitsilano Band.

Delamont’s bands could be heard everywhere. He rehearsed them all himself and had them each perform separately as well as in their respective neighborhoods. When the boys in his other bands became good enough, he had them come and play in his Kitsilano Band. It was the first band feeder system in B.C. Once a year, he would bring all his bands together for a massed band concert in the Orpheum Theatre, as seen in the photo above. There were no bands in the public schools in those days. That would come later in the early 1960s, when several of his boys and others fought to get instrumental music into the public school curriculum in B.C. and succeeded.

After his win in Chicago, his Kitsie boys were in great demand. Within five years, he had marched them through the provincial, national and world band championships, taking first place in all. Those of you, who have ever started a school band from scratch, know what a challenge it is just to get young people to play well. But to win the provincial championship in three years and the national, and then in two more years the world championship, that is how legends are made and by 1934, Delamont was a legend.

Every time a trip was scheduled, the boys got to work playing everywhere around town to raise money. Another thing that makes what he did so remarkable was, it was during the height of the Great Depression. No one was travelling anywhere, no one had any money. Yet, he was able to raise the necessary funds by having his boys play at every event around town that he could find. Because everyone in town got behind him to help send the boys to Toronto, to Chicago and on their next trip in 1934, to England, I suspect he was seen as an underdog at first but he managed to pull it off every time, not only because of his musical abilities but because he was always visible in the community and everyone knew him.

There was definitely an element of showmanship in all of this. I said in my opening paragraph that it is important for each director to carve out as big a niche in the community as possible. Delamont was able to carve out a huge niche not only because of his superb bands, but also because of his personality. He played in the Salvation Army Band as a boy under Sir Edward Elgar in Britain and then when he arrived in Vancouver in 1920, he started playing in vaudeville theatres, the Pantages, the Strand, the Orpheum and others. He learned how to sell himself and everyone loved him for it. I always said that I think he saw his Kitsilano Boys Band as one big vaudeville act that played for fifty years. The personnel changed every few years but there was always a key repertoire that was so audience pleasing, he played it decade after decade and the repertoire became known as his signature pieces.

He always performed for his audience, not above them. The music he chose for his concerts covered all tastes. There was always a Sousa march for the bandsmen in the audience. A Sousa march also lets the audience know at what level the band can play. I mentioned in another post, after 1945, he always played a hymn in memory of his boys who died fighting in the war. There were always the light classics and always at least one old war horse and probably a novelty number. In between these were his rapid fire encores. You had better be awake because he would turn around at anytime and give the downbeat to the latest pop tunes of the day. He was always putting on a show for the audience just like he did in vaudeville. The audience loved it, the boys loved it and the newspapers loved it, especially in the 1930s. He had a publicity manager whose job it was to promote the band and keep its name in the papers, amongst other things.

Later on in the 1950s, besides all his youth bands, he started a professional band which he called The Arthur Delamont Concert Band. This band played professionally all over town and was created to give his boys, after they left his bands, a place to play. It also allowed them to make some extra money on the side. But it drew other professional musicians to it as well, like Art Smith who took over Delamont’s North Vancouver Boys and Girls Band, in the 1950s. Art was the best trombone player in town so Delamont hired him, He always knew who the best players were whether professional or later on boys in the public school bands. He also hired Bud Kellett as his first clarinet because he was the best around. Bud started the Kerrisdale Kiwanis Band with Bobby Hales in the late 1950s.

He had other professional bands as well but they were made up of boys mostly from his pro band and elsewhere. He had a Cunard Band that played for the arrival and departure of cruise ships. He had a Parks Board Band that played regular summer concerts in the parks and he had a Chinese Funeral Band. That band played in Chinese funeral processions down Pender Street when someone important passed away in the Chinese community. At one time he ran the Lion’s Band until Dal Richards took it over. The band business was cutthroat and Dal never let friendships get in the way of his livelihood, Dal told me. You can begin to see how visible Delamont was not only with his Kitsilano Boys Band but with all his bands, both professional and amateur.

He always strived to keep his Kitsilano Boys band in the public eye, even right up to the end. At age ninety, he marched in the Cloverdale Parade as proud as ever. Everyone knew him, he had done it all. I am not sure how much he played but he was there, marching with the younger men. All the musicians revered him, as band royalty and rightly so. He could do whatever he wanted, it was fine with them. He could still play pretty well, right up to the end. No one was going to tell him he was too old, although I am sure many thought so.

I remember the last time I saw him. It was at the P.N.E. I was in Vancouver on summer break from my band teaching position back east in the summer of 1982. I was with a friend, lying on the grass waiting for a band to play. I wasn’t paying much attention but talking to my friend whom I had not seen for awhile. The band was off in the distance. It wasn’t long though, before my attention was drawn to some commotion on the bandstand. An old man was trying to scold the audience for being too noisy. Then he turned around and with a flurry of his arms, the band started playing perfectly. I couldn’t believe it because his conducting was all over the place. It took me a few minutes to figure it all out. I looked over at a marquee and read, The Arthur W. Delamont Concert Band and realized the old man was Delamont.

The audience was quite noisy but the band was loud enough to play over them. My first reaction was how sad. No one in the audience knew who he was and he probably shouldn’t have been there. But then, I thought, no, that’s Delamont. He is exactly where he wants to be and doing exactly what he wants to do so who should tell him otherwise. The band sounded great because they had played the music a million times. I later found out that the P.N.E. had told him he couldn’t play with his band at the P.N.E. that summer. He threatened to sue them saying who had performed more times at the P.N.E. than him? Who deserved to play more than his band? They finally relented and allowed him to play. He passed away later that year while giving a speech to his fellow masons. A showman to the end, he still wanted his band to be visible and he still wanted to be visible as well.