The Terrace Community Band premiered an original composition conducted by, and in honour of, retiring music teacher Geoff Parr at the R.E.M. Lee Theatre on June 15.
Vancouver composer Stephen Chatman was commissioned to write “Skeena Suite,” a four-piece musical movement inspired by the natural landscape of the Terrace region, which was dedicated to Parr and brought to stage for the first time.
“We decided last year what our project was going to be [but] it’s been on the books for quite a while,” says Parr. “There is a vibrance and lightness to the tones, and then these big, thick, heavy chords that go with it so it was an enjoyable piece to learn.”
Parr recently announced his retirement from Caledonia Secondary School, where he taught music and directed the school band for 30 years. He’s also played a huge part in the music community in Terrace, helping put together musicals and being a part of the Terrace Community Band.
But before he set off for retirement, the band came together to play the uniquely derived piece for the community which Parr led as the conductor. Working with the composer in person, Parr says it was wonderful to have feedback throughout their final rehearsals to make it performance-ready.
“It was a really good experience… it’s nice having the composer come and then work through it while they’re hearing this, they even made some little adaptations to it,” Parr says. “This is one that we can go back to and visit again, then sort of get more things out of it than we did even this time.”
The “Skeena Suite” is a musical ode to the forces of nature in the area, starting off with a Copper Mountain piece, then Kalum Lake, the Skeena River and finally a tune to celebrate the “Northern Glory.”
“The ‘Northern Glory’ has a harshness to it and especially with the weather [sounds], it just sort of has this beauty to it. That was really quite good,” he says. “[Together], we thought of geographical stuff, and then came up with the tunes.”
The show ended with a standing ovation and a farewell to Parr, with lots of inside jokes and references created throughout his decades of dedication to music in Terrace.
With the school year coming to an end, Parr says he has decided on his first retirement trip: a weeks-long solo cycling tour through Spain.
“[I’ve been] getting all the apps and the books, reading where I want to go,” Parr says. “I think it will be a good cleansing… this [will get me] focused again, clear the body and mind.”
And he adds that he isn’t walking away from music, just taking a step back to enjoy other things. He has yet to learn guitar, which is something he plans on teaching himself on the road.