The first time Dave Fullerton attended a Nanaimo Concert Band performance – a standing-room-only Christmas show in 2016 – he was struck by the number of people in attendance.
“I walked in and I looked at the band and then I looked at this sea of faces filling all the way to the back,” he said. “I went, ‘Are you kidding me? For a community band, this is amazing.’”
At the time Fullerton had recently moved to Nanoose Bay after retiring from 37 years as a high school music director and conductor for choirs and bands in the Lower Mainland. He quickly became a fan of the NCB, and a frequent attendee. He’ll be at the group’s next show in April, but this time he won’t be in the seats. He’ll be on stage.
In January Fullerton was named the NCB’s new director, succeeding Gerry Klaassen, who retired after leading the group for 22 years.
Fullerton said the selection process was thorough, comprehensive and “downright scientific,” and as a newcomer, he thought his chances were slim. But Shari Barker, a longtime NCB member who sits on the executive, said Fullerton was the band’s favourite applicant.
“He fit well as a person, not just as a band conductor. That makes a big difference,” she said. “Gerry ended up being our friend as well as our leader and we can easily see that with Dave being our leader and our friend as well and I think the audience is really going to pick up on how good he is and that we made the right choice.”
So far Fullerton has led the band through five rehearsals, and already Barker said he’s been bringing out the best in them.
“We’re hearing a different sound out of ourselves now and it’s for the better … and I think it’s because we’re so excited about him being up on the podium,” she said.
“There are quite a number of players in the Nanaimo Concert Band, in the vernacular of my business, they have got some serious chops,” Fullerton said. “Holy mackerel they can play right off the page, so those are the kinds of things that really sizzle a conductor.”
Fullerton said his first NCB show at the Port Theatre in April will a “pretty big deal,” and despite decades of experience, he’s already nervous. He said he plans to pay tribute to Klaassen, who he suspects will be in the crowd.
He said his predecessor had a distinct stage presence and sense of humour and Fullerton hopes to convey to the audience that he is respectful of the band’s history and everything Klaassen helped to build over the past 22 years. Fullerton said he doesn’t want to be “a glitch in their continuum.”
“I’m confident as any band director I have things to offer, but messing with their success formula is not one of those things in any way, shape or form,” Fullerton said. “I want that audience back enjoying everything that they’ve always enjoyed. And I’ll try to be funny, too. That’s going to be a tough one.”