The Yamaha grand piano, a gift to the West Vancouver Youth Band in 2010, is cleaned every day at its berth in the music room hall inside the West Vancouver community centre.“If Jimmy walked in here today and it didn’t look better than the day he donated it, he’d be really upset,” said Doug Macaulay, the band’s longtime principal conductor and executive director.Jimmy is Jimmy Pattison, a longtime friend of community youth bands since he began playing in the Kitsilano Boys Band, the first Arthur W. Delamont band in Vancouver.The West Vancouver Youth Band, which turns 90 next year, is the oldest continually operating community youth band in Canada and the only surviving Delamont band, so named because it was one of the bands formed early last century by the renowned Vancouver conductor.
Doug Macaulay and the Yamaha grand piano donated by Jimmy Pattison that is berthed at the West Van community music hall.
NICK PROCAYLO /
As for maestro Macaulay, the 52-year-old is in year 26 of an original three-year commitment to the West Vancouver band, a job he took reluctantly and one he immediately wondered how he could get out of.In 1993, there were 36 students, the band was on the edge financially, and the senior band was little more than a quartet. Today, the band boasts more than 200 students, has worked with Dal Richards, Colin James, Michael Bublé and Vancouver gospel singer Marcus Mosely and his Sojourners, to name a few.Ralph Ford, an L.A.-based and Alabama-born composer, was commissioned to write a four-piece suite for the band, Sea to Sky, which so wonderfully captures in music the drive from Lions Gate Bridge to Whistler.THE SONG CATCHERMost recently, Macaulay contacted Bob Baker, a Squamish Nation cultural adviser and co-founder of the Squamish dance group Spakwus Slolem (Eagle Song), with an idea to meld First Nations music with a symphonic band.Baker said it just so happened a song had come to him recently. Some call it song catching, the music coming back from the Creator or ancestors while paddling in a traditional canoe, catching salmon or, in Baker’s case, while painting some walls at Park Royal.Macaulay was welcome to the song, Baker said.The conductor took the song, Gathering of Eagles, to Vancouver composer Robert Buckley and asked him to reimagine it as a piece for the West Vancouver Youth Band’s symphonic band.After debuting last year at the Chief Joe Mathias Centre at the foot of Capilano Road in North Vancouver, it was published worldwide by Hal Leonard, the largest sheet-music publisher on the planet, and became a top-seller.Last weekend, while Macaulay was in Las Vegas as a guest conductor at Building Bridges: The Music of Canada, Gathering of Eagles “was the thing I had the most questions about from the audience,” he said.The song was expected to be a one-off, but proved so popular that it led to a second collaborative piece, The Wolf Song, which debuted this weekend at the Mathias Centre, and there will be a third song next year.The three suites will become known as The Squamish Symphony.“I’ve sung traditional songs my whole life and was proud to see the collaboration,” Ian Campbell, Baker’s nephew, said of last year’s Gathering of Eagles debut. “To see the advance of collaborating with a full orchestra was quite exciting.”Campbell is one of 16 hereditary chiefs of the Squamish Nation but he’s speaking for himself, not the First Nations band. He described the collaboration as being an example of “reconcili-action.”“It’s an exciting era for First Nations,” Campbell said. “We are no longer invisible in our own land. The opportunity to share our culture in a meaningful way is really exciting. That was denied in my parents’ and grandparents’ eras.“It means taking the principle of conciliation and putting it into action.”Composer Buckley did a wonderful job of reimagining the song for orchestra, Campbell said, calling it transformational for how it engages the young musicians in the West Vancouver Youth Band and gives hope for the future.COMMISSIONS FOR KIDSBuckley’s family moved to Vancouver from England when he was nine. He played in the Kits Boys Band, has worked with David Foster, Aerosmith, Motley Crüe, Natalie Cole, Rock and Hyde, Randy Travis, the VSO, London Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony Orchestra … the list seems endless.It’s no surprise the West Vancouver Youth Band’s young students burst with pride when he writes music for them.“We’ve commissioned an enormous number of things from him,” Macaulay said. “He’s written for Celine Dion, he’s written for everybody, but he also writes for us.”Parents and band alumni contacted for this story couldn’t say enough good things about what Macaulay’s done for the band. Many former students have gone on to great things outside of music, such as physicist Derek Muller, a renowned science educator who created the acclaimed YouTube science channel Veritasium and who works with the likes of science guy Bill Nye.
A 1999 photo of Derek Muller, playing the French horn in grey T-shirt at left, in leaner times for the West Vancouver Youth Band.
Macaulay, who taught the parents of some of the kids he’s now teaching, has lost count of how many letters of reference he’s written for former pupils applying to medical schools.“I don’t know how many doctors we’ve graduated at this point, but it’s quite a community and they’re all over the world.”When Penelope Neocleous, a former band piccolo and flute player, headed to McGill University, Macaulay put her in touch with another former student of his at the Montreal campus. Through that connection Neocleous was invited to join I Medici di McGill, an orchestra normally limited to students and faculty from the school of medicine.“I really liked how in a room of 100 or more students, when Doug began talking they all shut up and listened,” Neocleous, a 20-year-old honours anatomy and cellular biology student, recalled of playing in the West Vancouver Youth Band. “We weren’t scared. It was because he knows every instrument, how to play a solo part; he knows what he’s talking about.”Liam Grant, another alumnus, appreciates the opportunities the band gave him, not only to grow as a musician but as a community-minded individual.“(Macaulay) is definitely the life and soul of the band. The band would not be anything like it is without him,” said the 20-year-old student at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. “The band is his family and he treats it that way.”None of this was predestined, given Macaulay’s initial feelings about taking the job.“I thought, ‘The band’s terrible, why would I want to do that?’”
Doug Macaulay, principal conductor and program director of the West Van Youth Band, tries to listen during the cacophony of sounds before a recent practice.
Gerry Kahrmann /
IN THE BEGINNING …Macaulay grew up in a military family and moved around, but he’s been a Lower Mainlander since he was seven and he graduated from North Delta Senior Secondary before studying music at Capilano College and then UBC.It was his mentor at the latter, UBC professor emeritus of music Martin Berinbaum, who finally convinced Macaulay to take the West Vancouver job.“Back then, some of the kids were proving to be interesting,” said Macaulay, who was 27 at the time. “They were musically talented in some cases, in other cases just interesting people. So I thought, ‘Let’s just see how this turns out.’“That’s what kept me here in those early days, when the band was really not good.”The organization was hanging on financially, barely, by holding bottle drives and going door-to-door selling chocolate bars.Macaulay put an end to that and, in a sense, professionalized the band.“Selling stuff, that’s for the athletic teams,” he said. “Bands have talent. We started doing big-band cabaret shows where the band became a giant dance band and made the money for the band doing what it does: playing some music.”Some of the band’s performances — for seniors, in parades and at Remembrance Day — are free, but over the years it has also been hired to perform in films, TV shows and music videos, including Bublé’s Haven’t Met You Yet.“That was good fundraising,” Macaulay said. “We do earn a lot of money, as a band.”In his office sits the original bass drum of the Kits Boys Band. Along with posters of past performances and musical scores galore, he has a prized director’s baton made of ivory given to the conductor Delamont in 1933 for winning the Chicagoland Music Festival.Honouring the history and tradition of the band while keeping it relevant and adapting to changing community needs is a balancing act.“Last year after we did the Gathering of Eagles, I said to the kids, ‘You always make beautiful music, always,’” Macaulay said. “‘I’m always proud of you. But this time you also made history, and more importantly you made a difference.’“You can do that in the arts. I mean, change often comes through the arts, and here’s this group of young people making this massive statement simply by embracing this music and having the opportunity to work with these incredible people from the Squamish Nation.”OPEN TO ALLThe band has West Vancouver in its name, but about a quarter of the students live in North Vancouver and others call Vancouver home. Everyone is welcome to join and there are no auditions.The program has helped many young people through awkward years.“And we have kids who are having a tough time, who get into trouble, but they don’t miss band rehearsal,” Macaulay said. “It helps keep them on the rails.”Macaulay once asked his students why they were at rehearsal; why weren’t they out doing the other million things bright and promising kids their age could be doing on a Wednesday night?The answer? Their best friends were there; that’s where they met them.“Doug is very passionate about the students,” said Darlene Bryan, who has two children in the program. “He really cares about the kids, but also he won’t put up with any nonsense from them.”Macaulay has made a pact with himself: He can’t expect the students to work hard if he doesn’t.Apparently, it shows.“I look at my kids, they want to do their best for him,” Bryan said.The conductor has spent nearly half his life with the band. He’s getting older, but his students stay the same age. He’s not going anywhere yet, but he does reflect on how to relate to them.“Do I still have ideas? Do I still connect with the kids? Do I still make them laugh? Which is important because music is about play. Musicians don’t say I’m working a gig, they say I’m playing a gig.”When Macaulay does eventually pass on the baton, he will do it gradually.“I would not want to see anything happen to this. It’s a valuable organization; you can’t just walk away. If you’ve really done your job well, the whole thing can carry on perfectly without you. I don’t pretend for a moment that it can’t exist without me.“It can exist just fine without me, but we have to find the right person, the right team.”email@example.com/gordmcintyreCLICK HERE to report a typo. Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.