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Thursday, March 30, 2023
Music echoes through Navy Hall for historic lecture
Peter Alexander holds up a serpent, a brass instrument used in the Band of the 41st Regiment. Somer Slobodian

Guests were transported back in time musically as they entered Navy Hall last Friday.

The recreated 41st Regiment of Foot Band performed in a corner, the lights illuminating the musicians’ faces as they played, their eyes fixed on the music sheets in front of them.

“Music speaks essentially to everyone,” Gavin Watt, the fort’s military animation co-ordinator at Fort George, told the crowd.

“It communicates mood and it communicates the pulse, the keys and then sort of the tone of an awful lot of things.” 

Watt, dressed in his regular Fife and Drum uniform, held the attention of more than 30 people at Navy Hall during the second Fireside Friday as he spoke about the 41st Regiment of Foot Band of Music and its history.

“We have a lot of visitors from around the world and a lot of people that come to the fort that don’t speak English or French, and it does somewhat reduce their experience,” said Watt.

 “But when you can provide music to that, that’s something that’s very powerful,” he added. 

Watt’s father gave him a fife to play when he was about 10. He’s been in love with music ever since. 

Even though bands were common 200 years ago, little was known about the Foot Band.

Much more was discovered only after Peter Alexander, the music program co-ordinator at Fort George, and Watt decided to recreate the Band of the 41st Regiment of Foot in Niagara-on-the-Lake 12 years ago.

Three things were known and understood about the regiment. 

One, and maybe the most important, is that the band played at Maj.-Gen. Sir Isaac Brock’s funeral on Oct. 16, 1812. 

Another significant piece is a 1790 printing of the changing of the guards in St. James.

In the corner of the image is “a band with a band master, a serpent player, a few horn players (and) a couple of bassoon (players),” said Watt. 

The third thing known about the band came from a war loss claim of the 49th Regiment after Fort George was burned in 1813.

“A claim was put in by the 49th regiment for the loss of the instruments that happened at the capture of Fort George,” said Watt. 

Among the list were bassoons, flutes, french horns, a trumpet and a serpent to name a few. 

So that gave them an idea about what might comprise a band, said Watt. 

Alexander shared the presentation with Watt, jumping in when it was his turn to introduce some of the different instruments.

He showed the audience a serpent, a trumpet, a flute and even a triangle. 

The serpent is one of the most difficult instruments to have in a band, said Alexander. 

It’s a brass instrument that requires pitch control. It’s snake-like in shape – thin near the mouthpiece and swirling downward like a slithering python, becoming thicker near the end.

The duo, accompanied by Ken Purvis, and Peter Mitchell, performed songs on the instruments at the end of the presentation.

Alexander even played the serpent.

Everyone was quiet and engaged in the music, clapping after every song, waiting for the next. 

“I didn’t know a lot about the period, as far as musicians (go),” St. Catharines resident Ray Fortune told The Lake Report.

“So this was really informative,” he said.

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