Elena Cimolai never thought she’d swap her bassoon for a rifle. But that’s part of being a member of the Band of the Ceremonial Guard, the military unit that provides the music for Parliament Hill’s world-renowned Changing of the Guard.
Corp. Cimolai, who is working on her master’s degree in music at the University of Western Ontario, is one of hundreds of music students in Canada who make up the band.
Lt. Patrice Arsenault, the band’s director of music, says musicians are recruited from across the country every year. Positions are advertised in the fall, and auditions take place in February at various campuses and conservatories. Students who aren’t members of the Canadian Forces when they pass their auditions must undergo basic military training.
“I never once imagined myself in the army,” says Corp. Cimolai, who has spent three summers with the band. “You come back home and feel really proud … and you’re a better musician for it.”
Emma Porter, a University of Ottawa music student and oboist, whose parents were both members of the band in the 1980s, agrees. “Because we get to be musicians during the summer, it really benefits us when we come back for the school year,” she says, adding that her professors appreciate her discipline. “We’re not just working at a coffee shop and making coffee all summer.”
The basic training was more difficult than her parents let on, adds Corp. Porter, but worth it in the end.