Making a difference: for the love of music

Irwin Hobden at work in his garage workshop where he makes a wide variety of the unique products he sells, including the wood music stand in the background. In addition to his hobby he has also volunteered with the Penticton Community Concert Band Society for the past 25 years.  - Mark Brett/Western News
Irwin Hobden at work in his garage workshop where he makes a wide variety of the unique products he sells, including the wood music stand in the background. In addition to his hobby he has also volunteered with the Penticton Community Concert Band Society for the past 25 years.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

After 25 years at the helm of the Penticton Community Concerts, president Irwin Hobden will be stepping down after this year.

Down, but not too far away.

“We need some new people to take over and inject some new life, but I will still be around helping. I don’t know if I could ever completely leave,” he said.

Hobden said he originally got involved because of his wife who joined in 1952 as a teenager. She “dragged” him to concerts, well, not quite.

Hobden admits he did have a passion for classical music, joined the executive and continued on from there.

“I like classical music compared to anything else and I really enjoyed going. I just got hooked right from the beginning,” he said.

Hobden has long been a volunteer with youths. He spent years as a Boys Scout of Canada volunteer before he joined the Penticton Community Concerts. Growing up on a farm, Hobden never had opportunities that many kids have, whether that be sports, music or in clubs.

“Part of what keeps me enthused is seeing all these talented young people we have here. The quality of the young artists in Penticton and going on in the musical field is amazing,” he said.

“People quite often ask me if the kids back in the day were better than they are now. I say no, they just keep getting better.”

Hobden remembers bringing in a Hungarian brass band that toured North America and one Penticton music student had the opportunity to rub shoulders with the artists after the concert.

“I remember seeing her up on stage and I thought she is so thrilled with this opportunity that she is walking a foot off the ground. The look on her face and in her eyes actually warmed my heart to the point where it brought tears to my eyes,” he said.

“Her mother called me about a month later thanking us for doing that.

“The girl decided that exact night she rubbed shoulders with the band that she was going to commit to school for music.”

The reaction he got from young people challenging themselves and overcoming barriers to complete something they never thought they could gives energy to Hobden. He fondly remembers a canoe trip that he took a bunch of Scouts on in 1957.

“About eight months ago I went to the Shatford Centre for an event. One of the young people who was on that trip had died of leukaemia about two years prior, and I ended up sitting beside his wife. She told me that a month never went by in his life that he didn’t talk about that canoe trip. Those are things that just stay with you as a volunteer and makes volunteering worthwhile,” said Hobden.

Penticton Community Concerts continues to make it possible to hear performers you may never have heard before while keeping music affordable for the average person.

It is part of the affinity Hobden has for the group. He has seen all kinds of ups and downs in his 25 years, still he maintains a vision of growing the number of people involved behind the scenes, finding the perfect venue to host concerts (a 750-seat theatre is what he dreams about) and constantly evolving what type of talent they bring in to match their audiences.

“People from other communities look at how we run and copy it. We sell season tickets and single seats and it seems to work and allows us to bring in this amazing talent that we do,” said Hobden.

“There is about one per cent of the total population of Penticton that will go to a classical music concert, the national average is 1.1 per cent so we are right on.”

When setting up their season they now concentrate on getting exciting groups that bring something unique to attract a younger demographic.

Last season they brought in popular comedic-opera diva Natalie Choquette, who Hobden said blew everyone’s mind

Hobden said he isn’t the one that should be getting any kind of standing ovation for Penticton Community Concerts, rather that should go to the other volunteers.

“Our volunteer ambassadors are the foundation of our success. Please join me in thanking them at any opportunity you may have. Their service is greatly appreciated,” he said.

The long-time Penticton resident also volunteers with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind as a motivational speaker.

He began losing his vision years ago and now is left with about two per cent sight, but he keeps busy in his woodworking shop making all types of things.

Penticton Community Concerts is hosting a special event on March 27 at the Shatford Centre to learn about how to become a volunteer ambassador. They will also announce the lineup for the 2014-2015 season.


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