A career in the military and chops as a musician are often two things that run in the family, but Darren Rich, trombonist with the Oceanside Concert Band and retired commander of CFMETR, tends to find his own way.
Rich will be performing with the OCB at its spring concert Sunday, April 22 at Knox United Church in Parksville.
The OCB is one of many bands, both military and civilian, that Rich has been part of over the years, simultaneously identifying as a crewmate and a bandmate his entire career. But they were both anything but expected.
Rich’s entry into music started in Grade 7. Coming from a family with no particular musical ability, Rich was nonetheless tested for musical aptitude in school, he said.
“They’d play a B-flat and they’d play a B, and they’d say, ‘Is the second note the same as the first note, or is it higher or is it lower,’ and that’s it. You just filled in the blanks,” he said. “I scored high enough on that that they said, in Grade 7, they would give me the opportunity to go into the music program.”
Choosing the trombone was another exercise in aptitudes, he said. He tried mouthpieces from different instruments, and found which ones seemed to fit best. “Not everybody’s embouchure is suited to playing the trombone,” he said.
That’s how Rich found his hidden talent and passion for the trombone. “It was just something that became a part of me… and an outlet for other things.”
Great music programs in Napanee, Ont. and Innisfail, Alta. nurtured his talent and interest, he said, so that once he entered Royal Roads Military College, he was prepared to continue to perform there.
An air force brat whose grandfather flew in Lancasters in the Second World War, and who followed both parents and an uncle into the air force, Rich first applied to be a pilot.
“I had a pilot’s licence when I walked into the recruiting centre,” he said. “The guy said, ‘Can you read that?’ I sort of squinted and he said, ‘We’ll find something for you.’”
What the recruiters came back with was the option of combat engineer, artillery or naval operations.
“I tell folks that I was a very mature 17-year-old that made a decision,” he said. “I don’t like camping so I’m not going to join the army. I like to be able to sleep at night and wake up where I need to be in the morning, and the ship will always be moving regardless of whether you’re asleep or not, so join the Navy. That was it.”
It took a while for Rich’s parents to warm up to the idea. “I was the black sheep of the family,” he said. But Rich rose through the ranks, ending his career as the commander of Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental and Test Ranges in Nanoose Bay.
Throughout his career, as both a crewmate and bandmate, Rich said there have been many lessons that both bands and military forces need to learn.
“The first thing is teamwork,” he said. “You have to work together as a team to get to a common goal to achieve a desired result. And it’s the same with a concert band… rehearsal… it’s very focused, it’s a team-building exercised. You’re only as good as the weakest player in the band, so if someone’s part isn’t quite right and they play a note at the wrong time, or there is supposed to be a break when nobody is playing, it’s very noticeable.”
One lesson about being on time that has stuck with Rich actually gets mistaken as a military lesson, he said.
“When I was running CFMETR, we start a meeting at eight o’clock or nine o’clock and it’s like, I would tell them, ‘If you’re on time, you’re late.’ They’d say, ‘Oh, that’s a military thing.’ No, I learned it from band actually, in Grade 10.”
The idea is to be ready to go at that time — ready to perform, in the case of a band — not just physically present.
Now retired (in 2017), but a member of the Oceanside Concert Band since about 2014, Rich said he may have lost his military identity, but he can still find a familiar will to achieve as a team at rehearsal.
The band’s upcoming objective is its spring concert, Sunday, April 22 at Knox church (345 Pym St., Parksville) at 2:30 p.m. The program will include a pair of marches: El Cabalero and March Heroic, as well as a performance of Grand Russian Fantasia arranged by conductor Paul Rathke, Overture of Overtures, Beatlemania, Finlandia and more.
Tickets are $15, or $5 for students, while children 12 and under are free. Tickets at the door. For more info, call 250-752-5909.