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Then and now: Crowsnest Pass Symphony Orchestra

Wednesday, 02 May 2018. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Then and now: Crowsnest Pass Symphony Orchestra

This photo of the Crowsnest Pass Symphony Orchestra shows the group has included all ages and instruments back to its early days.

In front row, from left, are: unknown, Don McDougall, J. Koron, unknown, B. Dau, Anne Drozdeck and Georgette Dau. In second row are Frank Beebe, Evan Gushul, Harry Stobbs, Upton Sr., Graham, Peter Bakej or Baker and Walter Moser. In third row are J. Klesken (?), Jack Ferguson, D. Reese, Iris May, unknown and Paraska Gushul. In fourth row are Billy Toyle or Frank McLafferty, unknown, George Oliver, unknown, unknown and Mostyn Hadwell. In back are Frank Hosek Sr., Steve Hvizdos, Charles Olitch, Gaspar Hvizdos (?) and Cyril Guriel.   Photo courtesy of Crowsnest Museum and Archives
Can you help to fill in a missing name or two? If so, drop a line to shannon@shootinthebreeze.ca.


Then and now: Crowsnest Pass Symphony Orchestra


By Jane Mollison

Perhaps it is common knowledge for those born and raised in the Pass, but this writer was astonished to discover that the Crowsnest Pass Symphony Orchestra began in 1925 and is reputed to be one of the longest-standing amateur orchestras in Alberta.

And why is this? What has drawn so many, and continues to draw so many, to its musical family fold? As members prepare for the orchestra’s annual spring concert, let’s take a peek at some of the interesting origins of this eclectic group.

The orchestra was initially a string ensemble, conducted by Walter Moser until his death in 1959.

Against his family’s wishes, Walter’s son Ted became a writer, eventually becoming managing editor for the Globe and Mail in Toronto. Ted returned to Crowsnest Pass where he ran the Pass Promoter for several years, all while playing violin in the symphony.

J.E. Upton was another founding father, whose son Roy continued the musical tradition as a member, and then conductor from 1959 to 1971.

Cathy Rose, an early violinist with the orchestra, has an interesting story and strong current connection. She married Roy Amundsen and the couple had two sons, Peter and Blair.

Every Wednesday the family made what at that time was an arduous trek from Michel-Natal, now Sparwood, to Crowsnest Pass for orchestra, as Cathy was the primary string teacher. One requirement she insisted upon was that her students join the orchestra once they achieved a certain level of musical competence.

Continuing the orchestra tradition, Peter and his three children have played with the orchestra and Blair is the current cellist with the group.

Orchestra members have ranged in age from eight to 80, with musical experience from initially zero to those with years of playing and performing.

Eight years ago Mike Swystun could neither play an instrument nor read a note. Not only has he mastered sharps, flats and rests, he now plays the stand-up bass and is also quite proficient on the banjo, which he reserves for old-time fiddle and bluegrass renditions.

Shelly Groves, on the other hand, is a professional musician who was originally instructed by none other than Cathy Amundsen — hence Cathy’s current-day connection.

Shelly plays violin and is joined by her 10-year-old daughter, Sophia, also on violin, and her mother-in-law, Ruth, who plays clarinet.

There is also the Spranza family, bringing three generations together through the orchestra. Ruby, 10, plays violin, her mom, Sara, plays bass clarinet and grandmother Hilah Simmons plays trombone.

They drive weekly from the Pincher Creek area, as did Mary Coté for the more than 40 years she played in the orchestra.

Regardless of the wealth of talent, commitment and sense of family, a successful orchestra needs the right conductor to lead them to musical achievement. Over the years, Crowsnest Pass Symphony Orchestra has had several at its musical helm.

Jerry Lonsbury conducted from 1996 to 2016. He is a wonderful, caring man with an enormous amount of passion for music, and he is extremely dedicated to amateur music in this province.

Jerry now plays the keyboard and is one of the longest current members of the orchestra, with over 40 years under his belt.

His wife, Sheila, who plays flute, also has a long history with the orchestra, first joining the group in 1978.

Although Jerry’s retirement from conducting left big shoes to fill, Debbie Goldstein has done a fantastic job stepping away from her cello, which she had played with the orchestra since 2012, to take over as conductor.

She brings a wealth of musical and orchestral experience to the group and conducts with boundless energy, enthusiasm and wit.

There must be something pretty amazing and just downright fun to keep members coming back and driving long distances for practices year after year.

It’s the people.

This long-running symphony orchestra is an all-accepting, tight-knit group that welcomes the new and appreciates the old. That’s why this group, which began almost a century ago, continues to play together as a family, whether biological or simply bonded by camaraderie and a passion for playing.

Fortunately for us, we are all welcome to share this musically passionate and talented group at their performances next month. The first is May 5 at 7 p.m. at the Polish Hall in Coleman and the second is May 6 at 3 p.m. at Vertical Church in Pincher Creek.

These are not performances to be missed!

Crowsnest Pass Symphony Orchestra has become not only a musical legend but also an integral part of the rich heritage of Crowsnest Pass, which community members can be extremely proud to be a part of.


20180425 Orchestra Debbie

Debbie Goldstein has traded her cello for a baton and now conducts the orchestra.


20180315 Jerry Sheila Lonsbury Crowsnest Pass Festival

Former conductor Jerry Lonsbury and his wife, Sheila, are also avid volunteers and supporters of the Crowsnest Pass Music Festival.


20180425 Orchestra Mike

Blair Amundson and Mike Swystun practising for the spring concert.

Photos by Brad Quarin, Erin Fairhurst and Jane Mollison