The Manuscript Boys

When Delamont started what would become his Kitsilano Boys Band in 1928, he also started compiling what would in fifty years become the second largest privately held band music library in North America, only after Sousa’s. In the 1930s he bought many army band transcriptions of the great classical composers Mozart, Weber, Rossini, Tsiakovsky, Wagner, Strauss and others. This was decades before arrangers began writing versions of the classics for community and school bands so it was all that was available.

In the early 1960s, he culled his music collection and gave the majority of it which was out of fashion and/or too hard to play for his sixties boys to Ken Sotvedt, this included all the army band transcriptions he had purchased throughout the 1930s. Ken was an alumni of Delamont’s band and the director of the Vancouver Fireman’s Band. He was also an elementary school principal. Delamont kept what was current and what he felt he might use in the future.

Around 1964, Delamont began turning his army band transcriptions of the classics, into beautifully penned manuscripts which he wrote out himself. His penmanship was amazing. Anyone who ever read a Delamont manuscript, would always remember it for its unique style. He wrote out manuscripts for over fifty of the pieces from his library, mostly from the army band transcriptions which had become outdated and had lots of cuts he had made making them challenging to read, even for the most seasoned musicians.  When each was done, it was a work of art, no pun intended.

I can remember back when I joined his band in 1965. My folder was full of these old transcriptions. He at first looked at me curiously, I guessed to see how I was doing. Then, one night when I opened my folder, here were all these beautifully hand written manuscripts waiting for me to play. I couldn’t believe it. He never said a word. I figured out later that he was watching to see if I could play the pieces before he went to the trouble to write new manuscripts for me. I guess I passed the test because I was still happily playing them five years later. All us boys from 1966 onwards, would get to play these wonderful manuscripts. Years later at homecoming concerts, the older alumni would always defer to us manuscript boys to lead the way and they would follow because they were only used to reading the old army band transcriptions.

Unfortunately, Ken Sotvedt had a heart attack in 2004, died and all hell broke loose in the Fireman’s Band. It fractured into two warring groups, the older members and the younger members. There was more to it than that but that will suffice for this blog. I was called in to do an audit of the spoils, the music library and the instruments and divide them up. I was a neutral party and I also knew the music library very well. When Delamont died in 1982, I purchased his present library from his daughter Vera for 1 dollar an arrangement, some five thousand pieces in all. I had become a school band director and kept it for twenty years but in 2001, when it didn’t appear that I was going to use it any longer, Ken asked me if he could buy it for the Fireman’s Band, something which Vera also thought was a good idea so I agreed to sell the library to him for the same price I had purchased it for twenty years earlier.

To my astonishment, after I had finished conducting the audit, I discovered there were only about one thousand of the musical arrangements from the library that I had sold Ken in the collection and no manuscripts. Where had it all gone, that was the burning question? After some sleuthing, I discovered that Ken’s wife had donated the army band transcriptions to the music department at UBC. I went out to UBC to check to see if any of the rest of the missing library had made its way out there but sadly it had not.

It wasn’t long afterwards however, that I was told by some of the members of the Fireman’s Band and their new director Doug MacCauley that the music library had been taken off the shelves and the arrangements laid out on tables set up in their rehearsal hall and they all set about culling the library into pieces they thought they might play one day and pieces they felt for sure they would never play and those in the latter pile found a new home in the big blue bin outside in the lane. Apparently, all the manuscripts, I was told, were deemed unplayable by the group because they were handwritten and not printed and the guys were not used to reading hand written music so they allegedly threw them out.

I couldn’t believe it. How could seasoned bandsmen throw away original historical documents, even if they didn’t want to play them? Someone must have realized their significance and should have set them aside for a museum or the Vancouver Archive or university. I asked Doug MacCauley about the manuscripts and he was rather vague in his recollection about the whole evening and didn’t seem to recall any manuscripts. Besides the missing manuscripts, there were only about one thousand of the pieces I sold to Ken in my audit. What happened to the other four thousand? Were they all deemed too out of fashion for today’s audiences, I think not? It was a wonderful library dating back into the 1950s. There must have been every Hal Leonard pop classic of the day which Delamont regularly purchased each year. Then there were the novelty pieces that were by then well out of print but all just wonderful. Usually, when you are trying to decide if you want to play a piece, the band plays through it first; you don’t just look at the cover and base your decision on the name.

Over the years since, several theories have been put forth as to what happened to the original Delamont manuscripts. One was they are in the music library of the West Vancouver Youth Band, the only surviving band that Delamont directed for some twenty-five years. Another theory is that one of his old boys seeing what they were and appreciating their historical significance, gathered them up and has them in his home library for safe keeping, the same may be true about some of the other missing arrangements.

In retrospect, I wish I could have foreseen the problems on the horizon but no one could have guessed Ken Sotvedt would have a heart attack or the Firemen’s Band would implode or anyone in their right mind would throw away such a beautiful historical collection of music, including at least fifty original manuscripts written out by hand by one of Vancouver and Canada’s most important musical figures.

I remember returning from our ’68 tour of Europe and getting ready to depart London for home. Delamont had purchased the arrangements for Funny Girl and for Fiddler on the Roof which had just come out. We had all just seen the original London theatrical production of Fiddler on the Roof starring Topol, a few nights before. Delamont spent the entire night writing our a manuscript version of each for us all and the next day before we boarded the plane for home, we rehearsed them in a vacant wing at Heathrow Airport and performed them that same night at our Homecoming Concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and they were flawless. Now that’s musicianship!

PHOTO CREDIT: (TOP) 1968 The band playing a concert at some seaside resort in England. We are playing one of his original manuscripts as can be seen in the photo of the white piece of music on the stand. We always had red music folders. When it rained, often the rain on the folders would drip on to the white manuscripts leaving red blotches or red teardrops on his beautiful white manuscripts making those ones extremely easy to identify. The boys often could recall the actual concert when the music got stained making them very memorable pieces of living history.