Jim Johnston’s life moves to the rhythm of music.
And the joy it gives him is something he has long loved to share.
A longtime music teacher, Johnston has been co-directing the Salmon Arm Community Band for the past three years.
Cees Kooyman and his wife Hanne formed the band in 1996 and when Cees, who lives in Vernon, put down his baton, Johnston says it seemed to make sense for him to pick it up.
He will be sharing the band leader role with sax player Kelly Collins, who joined the group in January.
Johnston would like to grow the band and believes there may be a number of closet musicians who would fit the orchestral bill.
“It occurred to me that there are probably people who played in high school and think they couldn’t play in a band,” he says.
In order to ease apprehensions, Johnston is going to teach a five-week band refresher course at Okanagan College from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays from Oct. 2 to 30.
“Basically, we’re going to play music and have fun and we’re going to show those people that it’s the bicycle riding analogy – you are a lot better than you think you are and it will come back quicker than you think,” Johnston says. “This is a refresher course for people with experience, no matter how long ago, but if there was interest in changing, switching to a new instrument, or starting from scratch, we’d be interested in talking to you.”
If there is enough interest, Johnston says a beginner’s course might be addressed at a later date. And taking part in the refresher course does not mean committing to the band.
High in his praise for Cees and his 18 years conducting the group, Johnston says this is a traditional concert band with wind ensemble instruments, brass, woodwind and percussion.
“Like all large wind ensembles, we’re typically needy of the more exotic instruments – French horn, bass clarinet and alto clarinet, but we’ll gladly accept any and all instruments because all sections can be bolstered.”
Collins and his wife, Nita, retired to Salmon Arm last year from Whitehorse where Kelly directed a community swing band for 23 years.
“I don’t bring a whole lot of concert band experience, but that’s ok, it should be fun,” he says. “I expect it will have some commonalities… It will be a learning experience for me for sure.”
Involved in music since junior high, Kelly describes the ability to play music as a lifelong pleasure.
“It’s always there for you; it’s not a profession, just a passion,” he says, noting that the Whitehorse ballroom/swing group began as a one-time dance event. “We put an ad in the paper and shook a lot of people out of the woodwork – some who have not played for years. We gave them music to practise and it caught on so well it’s been going since 1990.”
Like Johnston, Kelly is quick to urge lapsed musicians to grab their instruments and head out to rehearsal where band members are all friendly and welcoming.
“I am looking forward to it; every conductor is different,” he says. “Jim will have his goals and plans for the season and so will I, and having two conductors can be good, we each have certain things we’ll hear in the band.”
The first rehearsal for the Salmon Arm Community band is set for 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21 at First United Church.
Johnston recently bought 23 new pieces for the band to practise (not all at the same time) and invites everyone to simply show up or call him at 250-833-8298.
The band’s first performance will be a Christmas concert set for Saturday, Dec. 6.
Enthusiastic about the upcoming season, Johnston again urges musicians, current or lapsed, to make music with him.
As a lifelong music educator, Johnston says in his years of school teaching, he always wished that music education didn’t end at the end of Grade 12.
“When I am sitting in my rocking chair in the home, it will make me so happy if someone says, ‘Hi Mr. Johnston, you taught me to play the clarinet and I am playing in a community band,” he says. “There’s the fun, the joy of creating music and doing it with the members of the community you live in. And, if we forget that as directors, I hope someone comes up and slaps us and says ‘remember why we’re here.’”
Those who are interested in the refresher course may register online at www.okanagan.bc.ca/cs reg or call 1-888-638-0058.
The course code is FA152 and the price is $99.