James Reaney and Music: Musical bees, marching bands, and dandelion horns

Illustration from "All the Bees and All the Keys" (1973) from Scripts: Librettos for operas and other musical works (James Reaney 2004).
“All the Bees and All the Keys” (1973); illustration by Ross MacDonald.

In his November 5 talk on “James Reaney and Music”, composer John Beckwith recalls their collaboration on a children’s story with symphonic music, All the Bees and All the Keys: “He said he had always wanted to write about a) bees and bee-keeping and b) small-town Ontario marching bands.” Beckwith also mentioned a scene in James Reaney’s play I, The Parade, where a penniless band with no instruments has to perform with dandelion horns.

I, The Parade tells the story of bandmaster and composer Charles F. Thiele (1884-1954), bandmaster of the Waterloo Musical Society (1919-1951) and Father of Canadian Band Music.* Commissioned as part of the City of Waterloo’s 125th anniversary celebrations, the play was presented at the University of Waterloo in November 1982.

Bandmaster C.F. Thiele leading the Waterloo Musical Society Band, 1947. Photo courtesy Waterloo Public Library (images.ourontario.ca)
Bandmaster C.F. Thiele leading the Waterloo Musical Society Band, 1947. Photo courtesy Waterloo Public Library (images.ourontario.ca)

In I, The Parade, the penniless dandelion-horn band appears in a story-within-a-story (told by Charles F. Thiele’s mother and father) that hints at some of the history of the Waterloo Band and its rivalry with the Berlin [Kitchener] Band. As John Mellor notes in his memoir about Professor Thiele, “This keen rivalry between the bands of Waterloo and Berlin/Kitchener became so intense that for a long period no Berlin musicians played in the Waterloo band and vice versa.”**

In this scene from Act I, trumpeter Albert Nafzinger is blackballed from joining the Music Society Band because he lives in the rival village. His sister, Gretel, desperate to play in a band but without an instrument, forms a band of her own: “… and they played with the stems of dandelions — which they called dandelion horns […]”


One two three together
Let’s hear it from the drum
Never mind if it’s a rusty kettle
Down the street we come
Down Park Street, down Union Street,
Turning right on King
Up Albert Street, up Margaret
Playing, playing

Buzzing like a bumble bee
Our music’s easy come by.
Break your horn, we’ll never mind:

[Angry at not getting into the band, Albert plots his revenge:]

ALBERT: Gretel, how much would you give me for my trumpet.
GRETEL: Albert. (PAUSE) You didn’t get into the village band.
ALBERT: I’ll get them. I’m not getting mad, no I’m getting even. […]
GRETEL: I’d give anything, do anything to have a trumpet that was my own.
ALBERT: Listen – this is what you must do then. First of all I have Sunday morning rights to practise – I can’t quite give it up, but there’s lots of lonely places outside town I can practise. But – cut your hair real short, put on a suit of my clothes and audition for the empty place in the band and. (PAUSE) It’s all yours.
GRETEL: Do you think I’d get in the band?
ALBERT: If you do, I’ll have my revenge on them. But – if they keep you out – I still keep the trumpet.
GRETEL: And my hair grows back and I can wear a dress again. Albert. (PAUSE) Albert, let me play a bit. Please.

Two pages form the draft manuscript for "I, The Parade" (1981-1982) courtesy Western University Archives James Reaney Fonds AFC 18.
Two pages from the draft manuscript for “I, The Parade” (1981-1982) courtesy Western University Archives, James Reaney Fonds AFC 18.

Note from Susan Reaney: This scene is excerpted from a draft manuscript version of I, The Parade, which is part of the James Reaney fonds at Western University Archives. The title at the top reads “Sally Trombone”, which is a ragtime-influenced novelty tune from 1917 featuring a “trombone smear” (true glissando), the specialty of composer and bandleader Henry Fillmore (1881-1956).

* For more about C.F. Thiele, see John Mellor’s book Music in the Park: C.F. Thiele Father of Canadian Band Music (1988), Waterloo, Ontario. ISBN 0-9692301-2-5
** John Mellor, Music in the Park, page 18.

All the Bees and All the Keys; illustration by Ross MacDonald.
Illustration by Ross MacDonald from “All the Bees and All the Keys” (1973) from Scripts: Librettos for operas and other musical works (James Reaney 2004).