Gerry Klaassen served in Canada’s military for 33 years; 17 as a performer on flute, piccolo and electric bass, the 16 years as a conductor, a training officer, a staff officer and finally as the Supervisor of Music for all Canadian Forces bands.
Today Klaassen will pay his respects to Canada’s war veterans at Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Parksville cenotaph.
He said when he was in the military he performed at many Remembrance Day ceremonies, including on the beaches of Normandy.
He said when he joined the military in 1963 there were people in the band who had been in the second world war and those musicians shared many stories with him.
Klaassen said, sadly many of the First World War veterans he had the opportunity to meet are all gone now.
Klaassen’s son is currently serving in the Navy and is stationed out of Halifax. Three years ago he was deployed to Afghanistan and Klaassen admitted he was concerned for his son’s safety over there.
“He was on the ground in Kandahar for seven months.”
Klaassen said because his son is in the supply trade he can serve in the Army, Navy or Air Force, so that is how he wound up serving in Afghanistan.
As a musician in the Canadian Military, Klaassen said he too travelled a lot and although he went through basic training he was never put into a combat role even though he had weapons training.
He said military musicians are waived from combat duty and his career involved performing musical duties for military functions and providing musical support for all aspects of military life, including ceremonial parades, graduations and ship ceremonies.
“We played for dignitaries at official functions. I played for the Queen,” he stated.
He said he enlisted after Grade 12 because it was a great opportunity to study music.
He said the military had its own music school in Victoria and, “we practiced music for 8 to 10 hours a day.”
He said a music career in the military is attractive because few employers offer steady work and guaranteed pay and benefits to play an instrument
He said marching with a musical instrument in the military isn’t as challenging as the marching you see high school bands doing.
“The choreography in the military is much easier. We go in straight lines and only have to turn left and right.”
He said when he was with the Royal Canadian Regiment Band and the Nadan Band he had many opportunities to perform all over Vancouver Island and said his lengthy music career in the military was rewarding and enjoyable.