On the evening of November 8, 2014, a milestone was reached. This year marked the 25th year of the annual Lest We Forget Concert hosted at the Winspear Centre.
The evening proved to be an unforgettable experience for this first-timer and passionate armed forces supporter. Upon entering the Winspear guests were greeted by the music of the Cosmopolitan Music Society’s Wednesday Band and conductor, Rita Burns.
“We like to support the troops and personally my family has served in the armed forces for a very long time and continue to serve,” commented Burns.
Before the main event guests were encouraged to bid on Silent Auction items and the proceeds were put towards honouring our troops. While the Wednesday band played and people bid on the silent auction I was struck by the image of the crowd that had formed a loose ring around the band. All who watched wore poppies of remembrance and many were veterans dressed in their military attire. As the band finished their set the doors opened into the auditorium and the crowd walked in all the while chatting and running into old friends along the way. It was amazing to see so many people coming out to recognize, remember and honour those who have fallen and those who continue to serve our country. In light of the recent incident in Ottawa and the efforts of the public to come to the aid of a fallen soldier – this tragedy also came to mind during the evening performance and I was compelled to silently acknowledge and thank those who have fallen.
Our host for the evening, J’lyn Nye, guided the crowd through the battles fought and won during World War One and World War Two. Nye also spoke to her own experiences of walking along Juno Beach and the intensity of her feelings that came about during many trips to France and Belgium to visit war memorials and battlefields. Her solemn voice told the story of Normandy and the events of D-Day and her detailed recounts of the events painted visuals for all who listened. As grave as the past battles were, the mood in the room was peaceful. Everyone I spoke to had a proud connection to someone who had served his or her country well. This was a group of people who came together to remember and pay homage to the men and women who fought for freedom and peace, for their families and for their homeland.
As the bands performed and conductors gracefully led the musicians in melody the overwhelming feeling of unique pride came forth during the Musical Tribute portion of the program. Rita Burns conducted over the Tuesday and Wednesday bands as they performed the ‘Ceremonial March’ and the ‘Normandy Beach March.’ It was a delightful sight to behold when Conductor Captain Patrice Arsenault walked onto the stage decked out in a red and black tuxedo uniform adorned with golden buttons. Arsenault led the Tuesday band on a journey through the piece titled ‘Normandy’ as well as the Monday band’s performance of ‘Commando March.’
University of Alberta student and Tuesday Band trumpeter, Leon Milner, spoke about the importance of remembering. “It’s important for young people to get involved and reflect on our history. This event as well as Remembrance Day is a way of bringing people together over common ground which is something I don’t see very often nowadays. ”
Following the orchestra the award-winning Viscount Park Pipe Band brought the audience back to a time when battles were fought and won with the beats of a steady drum and booming bagpipes. I must admit the music inspired me to the point that I was ready to stand up and yell, “For freedom!” with a surge of confidence – ready for battle. The first portion of the program ended with an emotional performance of ‘Requiem Introit and Kyrie Eleison’ by the Monday Band and Cosmopolitan Chorus which was followed by ‘Pacem’ by the Monday band and ‘Dry Your Tears Afrika’ by the Monday Band, Chorus and conductor Jamie Burns.
After intermission the goal was to liven things up and bring the audience back to the Popular Music of the War Years performed by the Cosmopolitan Big Band. First off was the hit song ‘In the Mood’ which was featured on NPR as part of the 100 top songs of most important American musical works of the 20th century. Vocalist Loiuse Dawson-MacLean filled the room with her soulful vocal skills as she sang ‘How Deep is the Ocean’ and ‘I’m Beginning to See the Light.’ In between the vocal prowess of Dawson-MacLean the song ‘Saint Louis Blues’ was played which featured trumpeter John Zurawell.
To round off the night the Ceremonial segment of the evening commenced with the Canadian Forces March. Each division of the armed forces veterans and current service men and women were asked to stand as each march was played. The divisions were: Royal Canadian Navy, Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, and the Royal Canadian Air Force. To see the faces of those who have fought for our rights to freedom was an honour and a privilege. The Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry also reached a milestone. This year of 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry that was founded by active philanthropy. This infantry continues today as one of three regular army infantry divisions. The pinnacle of the performance occurred when J’lyn Nye informed the audience that we could either stand or sit while the final songs were performed. Not a single person in the audience sat. We all stood and did not falter as the final songs were played.
“The community support in Edmonton is second to none,” commented Brigadier General Wayne D. Eyre.
The songs performed were the same as those heard by soldiers at the beginning of war times. The ‘Last Post’ is played solely at military funerals and ceremonies to commemorate the fallen. Trumpeter Jean Runyon honoured the fallen with her performance. The ‘Lament’ also known as the ‘Piper’s Lament’ was written in remembrance of fallen Scottish soldiers and was very fitting for piper Jonathan Grady, to perform.
As the lights dimmed and a spotlight focused on four soldiers standing around a cross with a wreath containing 11 poppies, the entire group of cosmopolitan bands and chorus’ began their final numbers. ‘God Save the Queen’ was met by not only the voices of the chorus but also the audience. ‘O Canada’ brought each and every soul in that auditorium together. The sound of so many voices forming into one, to celebrate and sing with pride, was an amazing sight, sound, and experience to behold. I have never been a part of something so pure and honest and I am so grateful to have attended this musical tribute. The reminder of how grateful I am to be a Canadian rang true through the instruments of the Cosmopolitan Bands and Chorus, Viscount Park Pipe Band and the many voices who spoke about the efforts of our troops both past and present that night.
The night was not only one of remembrance but also of celebration and appreciation for the efforts of the men and women who fought for their families and the goal of freedom and peace. To remember is to honour.
Lest we forget.
All photographs courtesy of Wanderer Online Photographer Brad Lim