Sunday, Oct. 23 was a bittersweet day for about 200 music lovers gathered at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre to bid farewell to the Palm Court Orchestra, as the group played its final Valley concert.
There was a flurry in the lobby as people lined up to sign a huge thank-you card for conductor Charles Job, who started the orchestra 30 years ago, organizing musicians for a single event to showcase the music he loved.
The idea then took off and the orchestra was formed and went on to hold many concerts, never letting go of the “Palm Court” idea of music that might have been played in the lobbies and lounges of elegant hotels in the earlier part of the 20th century.
Job put his back into promoting the music and the orchestra, and the group even recorded several CDs, which he has also tirelessly promoted at every show.
On Sunday, explaining to the audience that his basement is still full of these albums, he announced a clearance offer, which led to brisk sales at the intermission, and even to the conductor joking that he hoped to keep the audience at the Duncan theatre by piling CDs up against the door.
Another favourite orchestra promotion from the old days was the Palm Court Tea Party. Job reminisced about that on Sunday as well.
“We went through the whole period of the tea parties with the scones and jam, and plugging in the urns, which we’d collected at Country Grocer. And all the cups and saucers and putting cream in the little dishes,” Job said.
“All these things we have done to try to keep the music alive, it’s amazing,” he said.
Later in the program the audience laughed and clapped as David Denyer, another loyal Palm Court fan, brought out a basket of scones, jam and cream, prepared by yet another supporter, Leslie Sjoberg.
As the demographic supporting the orchestra aged, the number of people coming out to the concerts in the Cowichan Valley has declined to the point where it is no longer financially feasible to hold concerts here.
As he gracefully acknowledged those who have continued to support the Palm Court Orchestra, Job also took time out to recognize his own partner, Dr. Judith Martin.
“I’d like to thank her for all her support and for all the things we’ve had to do over the years, like on Wednesday we had to carry our music stands down to the basement in the pouring rain. She’s been the inspiration and a great worker behind all of this, particularly in the beginning. So I’d like to offer a really public thanks to her,” he said.
He pointed out that the orchestra is continuing to perform in Oak Bay, at the new theatre in the high school, and also in Sidney, where the Palm Court is apparently “the greatest thing since sliced bread”.
At that point, Jean Davis, one of the Friends of the Cowichan Theatre and a loyal fan, came onstage to make a presentation. She pointed out that some of the orchestra’s friends had planned to hold a special reception at the intermission but had been forestalled by theatre manager Kirsten Schrader.
“She said: ‘Oh, let me do it.’ So, she provided the coffee and refreshments and paid for the rental of the board room,” Davis said.
Then, musician Gordon Clements, a Palm Court veteran of 25 years, came forward to speak for the orchestra, saying, “I feel very confident to say we all truly feel thankful to Charles for the work and the experience. He’s truly one of the most unpretentious and hard working conductors. And he’s always busy putting up posters, raising money, gathering repertoire, choosing solos, even delivering our music to us at our homes. It’s really quite amazing. We’re all honoured to consider him a true friend,” he said.
Davis then came back onstage to thank Job and the orchestra “for all the wonderful music you have played for us over the years. The pieces in this era are such an important part of the history of music, helping to lift people up and help them recover after World War One, and on to World War Two.
“Through Charles’ amazing knowledge, we have learned much of the history and evolution of this music and its talented composers. It was thanks to composer Ernest Tomlinson, who came twice from England to conduct this orchestra, that scores of music were saved from being wantonly destroyed.”
Job spoke of his attachment to the music.
“I’m hoping we can keep this music going a little longer because today all we’ve played is pop tunes from the 20s and 30s,” Job said. “It’s not extreme but it’s disappearing very, very quickly. We’ll end with ‘Carolina in the Morning’. It’s guaranteed to send you home dancing.”