Big band conductor shares wealth of life experience

Musician Robin Bannister gives back to community through music

Saxophonist Robin Bannister conducts and plays with the Swiftsure Big Band and the Sidney Concert Band.

Standing in front of fellow members of the Swiftsure Big Band, long-time musician Robin Bannister waves his index finger in the air.

“A one, two, one, two, three, four,” Bannister chimes, leading the 18-member band into its first song during the regular Tuesday night rehearsal. The music room at St. Michaels University School fills with the sounds of woodwind instruments, drums, a cello and piano.

Bannister, who’s been with the band for eight years, takes a seat inbetween his fellow saxophone players and joins in.

The Sidney resident, who is in his early-70s, has more than five decades of experience in the music industry. He started playing music when he was a “youngster” in his junior high school band in the 1950s.

“I enjoyed being with a young group of people,” Bannister says. Playing in a band gave him the inspiration to consider getting into music as a career, he adds.

In 1957, the Moose Jaw, Sask. native came to Victoria to attend the Royal Canadian Navy School of Music. After graduating, Bannister played clarinet and saxophone for the Naden Band, the Canadian Forces naval band in Esquimalt.

For 20 years, he travelled and toured Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan with the naval band, playing at various fairs and expos. Bannister also led smaller entertainment groups, performing at isolated Canadian Forces bases throughout Canada and Europe.

He then enrolled at the University of British Columbia in 1977 and received his teaching certificate. He taught choir and vocal jazz at secondary schools throughout B.C. for 11 years.

“I enjoyed working with young people,” he says, adding that it was, however, a challenge.

Trying to inspire his students and introduce them to a different way of life was his biggest challenge, he says.

By sharing his experiences with his students and trying to act as a role model to them, he attempted to get them enthusiastic about music, he explains.

“I was fortunate to go into schools that had (music) programs that needed inspiration.”

His goal was “to get kids to get a taste of what music can provide” in their lives.

At age 55, Bannister took a hiatus from teaching and soon returned to being a full-time musician with the Canadian Forces Air Command Band in Winnipeg until he retired in 1993.

Bannister continues to stay involved with music. Besides conducting and playing with the Swiftsure Big Band, he is also the musical director and conductor of the Sidney Concert Band. Under the direction of the Regional Cadet Music Supervisor, Bannister also continues to teach more than 600 kids.

Although Bannister has always loved music, he says he especially enjoys it now. Playing with musicians his own age, and who have shared experiences, everyone has fun, he explains.

The Swiftsure Big Band includes both hobby and professional musicians, with players as old as 90. It’s that “mingling of generations” that Bannister loves, and the opportunity to give back to the community.

“We create music, perform, and hopefully do some good,” he says.

Upcoming performances

May 19: Sentimental Journey with the Swiftsure Big Band, at the Pacific Fleet Club, 1587 Lyall St., May 19 starting at 8 p.m. Advance tickets, $20, at Long & McQuade, Tom Lee Music, and Sidney Musicworks. Some tickets at door for $25. For more information, call Alan Clarke, 250-592-4077.

May 27: Fundraiser for 676 Kittyhawk Air Cadet Squadron with the Sidney Concert Band, Sunday, May 27, at 2 p.m., at 676 Air Cadet Hall, 1979 Anson Drive in Sidney. Tickets are $10 at the door. For more information, see

June 24: Outdoor concert at Sidney Band Shell with the Sidney Concert Band, at the Beacon Park Pavilion, June 24 at 1:30 p.m. Bring your lawn chairs to this free family-friendly event. Concertgoers may also donate to the band.

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