Windjammers was formed in 1993 by Harry Currie. Three years earlier, he had formed a 20-piece professional-level band called The Convocation Winds to play for convocation ceremonies at the University of Waterloo. This small group was so successful that Larry Orr, the euphonium player, asked Harry if a full-scale wind ensemble could be formed on the same lines – carefully selected musicians by invitation only.
The problem was where the group would play and find an audience. Larry suggested that he would set up a foundation to liaise with charitable organizations. The charities would sell the tickets for the concerts, the ensemble would perform the concerts free of charge, and the charities would keep the money from the ticket sales. Plans went ahead, the Pops 2000 Foundation was formed and the musicians were selected – concert band instrumentation but with a second tenor sax, piano, string bass and a set drummer, allowing them to perform a wider range of arrangements. The late Jonas Bingeman offered Bingeman Hall free of charge, since the concerts were for charities, and Bingeman would make some money for food and drink since the concerts would be organized in a cabaret setting.
But a name for the ensemble had to be chosen. Several ideas were put forth, one of which was Harry’s – that the name “Windjammers” would be appropriate: the group was a wind ensemble, and several of the key players were fine jazz improvisers. Another word for jazz improvisation was “jamming,” and since this was to be part of the group’s repertoire, Windjammers was born.
Success followed success, and after a few concerts the audience at Bingeman Park had grown to 800, but two things changed the future of Windjammers. After the death of Jonas Bingeman the new management felt they had to charge a rent for the hall, and two of the charities fell down on their ticket sales. The group moved to several locations which were not really appropriate venues for concerts, but found a temporary home at the Waterloo Stage Theatre.
A decision was made to abandon the partnerships with the charities and strike out on their own, which led to some 15 years of performing in large concert halls in several Southern Ontario cities – Centre in the Square in Kitchener, River Run Centre in Guelph, Sanderson Centre in Brantford, Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, Rose Theatre in Brampton, plus occasional fund-raising concerts in Oakville, Palmerston and Guelph.
Performing at the Guelph Spring Festival in 1997 they were dubbed “Canada’s Finest Pops Wind Ensemble.”
Along the way two CDs were recorded — Swingphonic with arrangements by the legendary Sammy Nestico, which was generously sponsored by the K-W area newspaper The Record, and Broadway Baby, backing the musical comedy star K.K. Edissi.
The various programs by Windjammers cover the complete range of standard pops music: Windjammers Go Latin, Windjammers at the Movies, Windjammers Visit the Big Bands, Windjammers On Broadway, Windjammers and All That Jazz, Windjammers Celebrate Canadians in Hollywood, Windjammers and Love Around the World (for Valentine’s Day), Windjammers Celebrate and Remember, Windjammers In Tribute, Windjammers and a Century of Top Pops, Windjammers Fall into Christmas, Windjammers Swing the Classics, Windjammers Visit Britain and Ireland – to name a few. All programs are accompanied by visuals on a large screen.
Several things stand out: A joint concert with the Central Band (RCAF) of the Canadian Forces from Ottawa at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga which raised $10,000 dollars for the Military Families Fund, a concert in January 2005 which raised $10,000 dollars for Tsunami Relief in Thailand, and variations of their War and Remembrance concert which have become a tradition for Windjammers in the month of November through the years.
Many guests have worked with Windjammers, including Ted Follows, Bobby Herriot, The Irvine Sisters, Dinah Christie, Scott Attridge, Beverly Gail, Peter Appleyard, Scott Poll, Carol Welsman, Heather Bambrick, Rick Wilkins, Eleanor McCain, Phil Nimmons, The Essentials, and many others.
The support and dedication of its 40+ talented, versatile and generous musicians who volunteer their time is the heart of Windjammers’ continuing success. Harry Currie is the Artistic Director and Conductor, but the organization is well handled by the executive, currently: Manager Catherine Masi, Librarian Richard Watson, Host Gabriella Currie-Ziegler, Visuals Dr. David Brown, and web-gurus Peter Revie and Mark Richardson.
If Windjammers had a motto, it would probably be from a quote by Friedrich Nietzzsche:
“Without music, life would be a mistake.”