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Le Courant

Fall 2010 | 12

The Origins of the Coaticook Harmony Band

Shirley Lavertu

Popular belief would have us believe that the Coaticook Harmony Band was established in 1870. Recent research has uncovered the fact that the band held a concert on January 28, 1869. Ta be specific, the Coaticook Brass Band held a concert as part of the program of activities at a Wesleyan Missionary Meeting. Since the performance took place during the first month of 1869, we can say without too much fanfare that the band at least became orga¬nized at the end of 1868. Therefore, we can take into consideration that this band is at least 142 years old. It might be a good thing to mention that it is quite possible that the band is even older than 142 years if you take into consideration certain facts. The means of transportation in those early days was not the same as it is today and consequently it was much more difficult to obtain any of the instruments and sheet music which would enable a group of musi¬cians ta put together a program or event worthy of being written up in the newspapers.

It is therefore from the early part of 1869 that we hear about a musical bond in Coaticook. The official name of the brass bond in Coaticook chan¬ged over the course of the years: Coaticook Brass Band (1868), Coaticook Cornet Band (1870), City Band of Coaticook (1890), Harmonie de Coaticook or Coaticook Harmony Band (1925), l'Harmonie de Coaticook or The Coaticook Harmony Band (1933) and finally, Harmonie de Coaticook, enr. (1936)

The Early Years
The Coaticook Brass Band only had one goal in mind in the first decade. They wanted to be able to play a higher standard of music through music courses and rehearsals but the productions that the band did put on were more in the entertainment field. As a result, the musical group took part in more official engagements like the going-away event held for Doctor Wood of Coaticook in 1873. (Canada Medical and Surgical Journal, volume 2, Edited by George E. Fenwick, M.D., Montreal, Gazette Printing House, 1874, pg. 47). The brass band also parti¬cipated in several parades with other groups such as the Town policemen and firemen and playing concerts set up in different halls. The orchestra members of the Harmony Band were also playing their music in parades or other events in neighboring communities (L'Etoile de l'Est, Aug. 29, 1890, p. 3). These shows were fund raisers for the Harmony band. Any sum of money received would go toward the purchase of instruments and uniforms as well as for the repair of instruments. It should also be mentioned that during the 1890's, the municipal council granted the brass band a contribution of $100.00 per year. (L'Etoile de l'Est, Apri110, 1891, pg. 3)
The serenades (or sing-alongs) were some of the favorite choices of music performed by the Coati-cook Harmony Band at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. Any excuse was used to hold a serenade. The list of people who were "casualties" of the serenades were legendary: the mayors of the Town and honorary presidents. Christmas and New Year's Day were particular times prized by the musicians. As a result, serenades were played in many homes and several hotels. One musician recalled that it was the custom on New Year's Day for the Coaticook Harmony Band to go and serenade the honorary president of the bond who would afterward ask the members to come in and "warm" themselves up a bit. This was followed up by the musicians going from hotel to hotel in the town to play even more serenades. At the end of the day, the majority of the musicians were in a very rosy state and their music left much to be desired! (Le Progres de Coaticook, Aug. 2, 1962, pg. 2, Memories of an old member of the brass band)
One of the most well-known serenades performed by the Harmony Band was when they ended up outside the jail where Harry Thaw was interned in 1907. Mr. Thaw had been accused of murder in the United States. He had escaped to Canada and was held prisoner in the jail located in the Coaticook Town Hall until eventually being returned to the United States. To make his stay a less lonely one on Quebec soif, the musicians of the brass bond sought to cheer him up a little bit by offering him a nice serenade beneath the window of his jail cell. (Le Progres de Coaticook, Aug. 2, 1962, pg. 2, Memories of an old member of the brass band)
The Band Stand
It was part of the customs of the Coaticook Harmony Band to hold concerts at their band stand by the Town Hall. This stand was torn clown by the members of the brass band during the summer of 1950. Following the demolition of the band stand by the Town Hall, the musicians of the Harmony Band needed a new place to put on their outdoor concerts. The inauguration of the new band shell took place on October 14, 1951. This turned into quite a holiday event. L'Harmonie d'Iberville had been invited to put on a concert and, as well, to participate in a "mass band" (participation by more than one band conducted by a musical director in a performance) conducted by on invited director during the course of a parade.
The Town Hall Fire
The fire at the Town Hall on November 29, 1953 was a low point in the history of the Coaticook Harmony Bond. The Coaticook Harmony Bond had just about always kept their belongings within the Town Hall. They had a room there where they kept their instruments as well as a library of sheet music. It was also here where the band held their rehearsols. The room of the Coaticook Harmony Band was located on the third floor of the building during the 1 950's. A very violent fire erupted November 29,1953 at the Town Hall in Coaticook and the building was completely destroyed. Without a doubt the Coaticook Harmony Bond was in deep mourning over what had taken place. We have learned lately, that during the course of an interview with Mr. Martial Martineau, that he and Ernest Lafaille as well as the musical director at that time, Victor-Laurier Vincent, managed to save about half of the Coaticook Harmony Bond music library and at least one instrument.
The Coaticook Harmony Band Majorettes
There were majorettes as part of the Coaticook Harmony Band long before the origin of "Les Tourbillons de Coaticook" majorette team. It was Victor-Laurier Vincent who organized the first team of majorettes for the Coaticook Harmony Band. In 1949, after seeing various musical formations in the United States, he decided to give the Coaticook Harmony Band their own majorette team led by drum major Robert Huard.
The first team of majorettes were officially ready for parade during the summer of 1950. They held their debut performance at a parade in Coaticook but it was a ground-breaking achievement when they sent the Coaticook Harmony Band majorettes to the Quebec Amateur Festival des Fanfares in Granby at the end of June in 1950. The Coaticook Harmony Band was the first brass band to present a team of majorettes. The team consisted of the following members: Mona Riendeau, I st majorette; Jacqueline Paquette, Jacqueline Belisle, Claudette Lefebvre, Rose-Helene Trudeau and Pierrette Fournier.
The majority of the young women joined the majorette team at about 15 years of age. They would remain on the team for a few years and then they would resign. There were several reasons to explain the reasons why these women would leave. Most quit when they entered the job market or became pregnant. It is for these reasons that the majorette team changed the position of 1st majorette six times: Mona Riendeau, Pauline Bouchard, Pauline Lapointe, Pauline Bureau, Lise Bolduc and Gisele Chouinard.
The end of the majorette team came about 196768 with all of the majorettes resigning for varying reasons. After more than 17 years, this group which had contributed a dynamic and colorful addition to the Coaticook Harmony Bond, to the aspirations of young girls and to the rights of women, was no more. More than thirty women had been members of the majorette corps over these 17 years.
The Amateur Provincial Festival des Fanfares de Quebec, 1962
The Coaticook Harmony Band had been entrusted to organize the Festival des Fanfares (Brass Band Festival) under the presidency of Ernest Lafaille in August 1962. This amateur Festival des Fanfares for the province of Quebec was held in Coaticook on August 2nd and 3rd, 1962. According to the program, three parades, several concerts as well as a "mass band" were listed. The Coaticook Harmony Bond and the East Angus Harmony Band jointly held a concert under the capable direction of their two conductors: Harry Tinker and Victor-Laurier Vincent. The organization of this Festival turned out to be a genuine success. There were more than 750 musicians along with about twenty brass bands which took part in the Festival and, over the course of two days, more than 15,000 people attended this event in Coaticook.
The Military Brass Band
The first military brass band in Coaticook was organized in 1947. The battery of the 27h Field Regiment of the Canadian Royal Artillery was stationed in Coaticook at this time. Victor-Laurier Vincent, musical conductor of the Coaticook Harmony Band, had once been a clarinetist in the Canadian army, and it was to him that was given the mandate to organize a military brass bond for the 27th Regiment. It was also Mr. Vincent who recruited many of the musicians from the Coaticook Harmony Band to take part in this military brass band. The musicians each received a small weekly supplemental pay for their efforts.
The musicians who accepted to be part of the 27th Field Regiment of the Canadian Royal Artillery had to follow a few courses. The first course they had to comply with was basic training. The musicians had to learn the rudiments of military life including drill courses. Following the drill courses, they went on to take courses in music. Once basic training was complete, the musicians were sent to other military camps such as Valcartier and Farnham.
The 27th Field Regiment of the Canadian Royal Artillery became the 46th Field Regiment of the Canadian Royal Artillery following a decision from Defence Canada in 1959. The headquarters of the Regiment was also implicated and it was moved from Coaticook to Drummondville and the 72nd Battery remained in Coaticook.
The Department of National Defence decided to reduce the number of military brass band units from 24 to 13 in 1968. The Coaticook military brass band was one of the units slated to disband. The disbandment of the military brass band in Coaticook would go on to have a lot of influence toward the survival of the Coaticook Harmony Bond.

The Decade Between 1970 and 1980
The 1970's had generally gotten off to a good start for the Coaticook Harmony Band. It had been two years since the army had left Coaticook and the brass band in Coaticook was making a slow comeback. Even though the 46th Field Régiment of the Canadian Royal Artillery had left Coaticook with about twenty instruments also used by the musicians of the Coaticook Harmony Band, the administrative council now had the opportunity to buy bock these instruments at reasonale prices. Over the remaining years of the 1970's, the Coaticook Harmony Bond would reach its lowest point. Their effectiveness as a group had considerably fallen ta the point where everyone was asking whether or not it just might be better to dismantle the brass band.
It was through the efforts of some members believing in the value of having a brass bond who would see their reward finally come about. The Coaticook Harmony Band was composed of 48 musicians in 1980. The recovery of the band was in a precarious state but the members were determined. Michel Dougherty, président, made renewed attempts to enlist the help of students at the polyvalente la Frontaliere in Coaticook. This time he was given positive feedback from the principal of the school, Mr. Andre Langevin. The Coaticook Harmony Bond was on the verge of making a major comeback. The concerts once again began ta be presented in Chartier Park with the old musicians of the organization along with the new young musicians brought in ta compliment the band.
The Harmony Stage Band

Two new groups were formed in August of 1993 for the 1993-1994 season: a stage band composed of 15 to 20 musicians and a chamber music group consisting of 3 ta 7 musicians. It was soon seen that the music from the chamber group was unpopular so was not continued but the popularity of the stage band, also known as the Ballroom ensemble, caught on quickly.
Over the course of several years some of the best musicians of the Harmony Stage Band gave concerts in several locations. These evening recitals represented an excellent source of fund raising for the Coaticook Harmony Bond. They had up to 19 musicians at one time taking part in the stage band along with a repertory of more than one hundred pieces of music.
Cultural Exchanges
The Coaticook Harmony Bond has modified some of their interests. The main goal still remains ta play harmonious music. Even so, since 1993, cultural exchanges have been organized with similar type harmony groups from France.
The Coaticook Harmony Band have made 5 trips ta France and have had cultural experiences with many French harmony bands. These same groups from France have had the opportunity to come ta Québec and discover the Coaticook Valley région.
The history of the past 142 years of the Coaticook Harmony Band allows us to understand the importance of this organization. The Coaticook Brass Bond has been able to cross through these many years despite changes in customs, in society, wars and economic crises. Ta be sure the history of the organization was not always one of good times. Nevertheless, the musicians, the majorettes, the presi-dents and the musical conductors were able to give something back at each and every performance to promote the organization. They met adversity and worked their way through it.
The Coaticook Harmony Band allowed thousands of people many pleasant memories by playing in the center of the Town of Coaticook. The flame of the band was born in the hearts of the Coaticook Brass Bond and it continues to burn in the hearts of the Coaticook Harmony Band.

"The Coaticook Harmony Bond is your band, do not forget this. It is just as important for a town ta have a band as it is to have a hockey club or a baseball club or a committee of industrial relations. It is a testament to progress, ta the advancement of a town. In a few words, it is indispensable and we have to give our support. " (Le Progres de Coaticook, April 26, 1951, pg. 9, Nos musicians a votre porte donnez généreusement.

Le Courant

Le Courant is published by the Society every year. Society's members, professional and amateur historian shared with the readers results of their searches. Articles are available in English and French. This publication received generous support from local sponsors that the Society wishes to thank with all it's gratitude.


Coaticook Historical Society

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Over 23,000 pictures from our weekly newspaper Le Progrès.
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