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Palmer Concert Band best in the land

By Don Fennell

Published 11:15 PDT, Mon May 31, 2021

It’s often been said that music is the true universal language, its roots extending to every culture in the world.

Through the challenges of COVID-19, music has also provided opportunities to express ourselves and to unite as one.

Embracing the gift, members of Richmond’s R.C. Palmer Concert Band shared their talents to earn top marks in the recent National Music Festival Competition. Their gold medal-winning performance was the result not only of inner determination but also of dedication far beyond the norm. 

It’s more than just the music. It’s an experience for everyone involved,” says Brandon Young, a Grade 12 student. “Everybody came together on a pro-d day (with) no school. (This experience) develops a lot of connections you’d otherwise have missed out on.”

Young said having to deal with everything the pandemic has presented, and persevere, “shows that there is still a real passion for music here.”

“(The concert band) is a very important thing to have at Palmer because it encourages leadership and communication. It’s a social experience that a lot of people wouldn’t get to have otherwise. Not only is it good in that regard, it also shows that people have a commitment to practice and get better.”

Nina Wang, a Grade 10 student leader at Palmer, feels similarly encouraged.

“Having our music program continue to run has been extremely important, because not only is music a way to bring us together but also crucial to our mental and emotional health—which is something we really need during this pandemic,” she says. “Even though band is obviously not the same as before COVID-19 with so many restrictions and all, I think we still took what we had and through persevering we were still able to create beautiful pieces of art and make it come alive.”

Wang notes that each student has their own responsibilities as a musician, not only to practice but also to look out for one another.

“What makes the band such an amazing place is we are all very compassionate and here for one another,” she says. “Being able to play with everyone else is like connecting with others on another (intellectual) level. You know, everyone is in charge of a beautiful melodic thread and when you put that together, you get a lovely tapestry of sound and I think that is just so fulfilling. So yeah, not only have we grown as musicians, as students, but also as young leaders and as people.”

Under the direction of Career-Life Connections teacher Iris Chan, the Palmer Concert Band performed masterfully three beautiful classics as their musical selections for the virtual performance. The pieces were, in order, English Folk Song Suite, a classic band repertoire by R.V. Williams that Chan says was “technically challenging” for a majority of the band); Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Major, a J.S. Bach composition arranged by R.L. Moehlmann featuring “balance and beauty;” and El Zorro by R. Standridge, “an exciting Spanish dance.”

Sharon Fitzsimmons, an Ontario-based judge and chair of MusicFest Canada Concert Band Division described listening to the Palmer Concert Band as “a pleasure.”

“Your choice of repertoire was exemplary. It provided challenges and inspiration for your ensemble, giving it the musicality, technicality and spirit it deserved,” she said.

Fitzsimmons added: “Many beautiful moments, played with style and finesse.”

The “intellectual music” allows the students to grow technically, emotionally, socially, and analytically, says Chan.

“After interpreting the stories inside the music, they then express it to make it their music. This is training for their brains. And they have to be focused and physically fit to be able to do it.”

This well-deserved success, and honour, for the Palmer Concert Band comes after their provincial trip was cancelled last year. But it was replaced by the opportunity to work with adjudicators from Ontario, Alberta and Massachusetts.

“I am beyond thrilled with this achievement, and my musicians’ diligence to persevere through challenges even with COVID-19 limitations,” Chan says. “This team I have here is a dream come true.”

Palmer principal Navshina Savory says the band reinforces the meaning and purpose of Palmer’s PRIDE motto: positive attitude, respect, integrity, diversity, and excellence.

“Through the pandemic, we have come to realize that some of the most important aspects of a school experience are the building and experiencing of a sense of community,” she explains.

To watch the Palmer Concert Band performance, click here or here.

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