Max Hughes built his musical career with the Penticton Concert Band, despite having learned his first instrument at the age of 65.
“I like being able to concentrate on something that allows me to keep my brain active and hand-eye co-ordination,” he said. “It was a bit of a challenge learning because at about age 65 your reflexes start slowing.”
The Penticton Concert Band originally came about in the 1940s, and after a boom and bust, it folded in the 1980s.
It wasn’t long before that style of music became noticeably absent, and in the mid 1990s, the band was rehashed by Paula Baker, who was a high school music teacher. As Baker was recruiting members, Hughes, who was nearing retirement, was looking for a new hobby and decided to join.
Hughes, now a tenor saxophonist, said he’d always been interested in playing music, but he grew up in Australia where musical studies weren’t offered through school.
“The only group musical training you could get in my town was the Salvation Army, but that’s all brass and I wasn’t interested in that, so it was Paula Baker’s introduction of the adult band that got me going. I began as an absolute beginner and I was getting close to 65 when I started, so that makes me in my low 80s right now.”
In the early days of the rejuvenated band, the musicians were “mostly absolute beginners.”
A few years later, members became more comfortable reading sheet music and were able to significantly expand their repertoire.
Hughes was then taken under the wing of local musician Larry Crawford.
“So I spent a year or two with Larry trying to learn a bit more about the jazz idiom.”
The concert band has grown steadily during Hughes’ tenure and is now around 40 members in size, and he said each instrument and element in the group is essential for the band to embody its full sound.
“When the band is playing as a group there’s full harmony there. People seem to like it because of the variety of music.”
It’s easy for the band members to feel confident about their progress after noticing the large attendances they continue to attract.
“People showed last year that they appreciate the type of music we play by the attendance they gave,” he said in reference to a sold out show last season at the Penticton United Church, which holds around 900 people.
In its earlier days, the concert band rotated through music directors more regularly. The group substantially grew in its professionalism nine years ago when Gerald Nadeau took over as director, and upon his retirement, that role was taken over in September by Dave Brunelle, who teaches band and jazz at Skaha Lake Middle School.
“The directors have been really good in bringing the band along as the members became more proficient. Each director added a little bit more to it in the complexity of the music, so the band was forced to improve along with it,” he said. “I think Dave Brunelle will take us to the next highest level. The future looks very favourable for the band.”