Leonard Camplin is an adviser and conductor with the Fraser Valley Philharmonic Orchestra.

Getting in tune with Leonard Camplin

Leonard Camplin is an extraordinary conductor who has performed throughout Canada, Europe, the United States and the Far East.

Leonard Camplin is an extraordinary conductor who has performed throughout Canada, Europe, the United States and the Far East. Many leading Canadian and international artists have performed under Leonard’s baton and many have applauded him for his outstanding leadership and incredible skill.

Maestro Leonard was born and grew up in London, England until WWII broke out. As an evacuee, he was transported to the Midlands to avoid the intense bombing that was taking place in an effort to subdue Great Britain. While he escaped the heavy bombing, he returned to other, less serious assaults, nonetheless. His father was a stoker in the navy and during the war, he lost his hearing completely. “After that, my father really couldn’t work,” he said.

Leonard left school at the age of fourteen; a combination of the need to earn a living and a desire to move on with his life. “I had a number of jobs during that time and one of them was as a factory worker, helping to assemble farm equipment and that sort of thing.” It was also during this same time that he fell in love with the violin. “I was interested in music. I had been a choir boy in London and while I was living with my aunt, I had noticed that they had a violin. The smell and look of the violin fascinated me. I didn’t touch it for fear that I’d break it,” he laughed. With a loan from his brother, he bought his first, brand new violin. “It even came with a case and a bow,” he said exuberantly.

Aspiring to learn to play the violin proficiently and professionally, he began attending the prestigious Guildhall School of Music in London. “I took on a milk delivery job in order to be able to pay for my schooling. I got the job quite easily because the men that would otherwise be working, were at war,” he explained.

During this time, Leonard was encouraged to audition for the British Army. One thing led to another and he applied to the Royal Fusiliers, City of London Regiment and he was accepted. He became an oboist since he was required to play a band instrument. “I was shipped from London to Scotland for twelve weeks of gruelling training and after that time, I was sent back to England for four more months of advanced military training,” he said.

He was selected to attend the Royal Military School of Music (Kneller Hall) in London and after graduating in 1955, became the British Army’s youngest bandmaster. After being transferred to Germany as part of the British Army of the Rhine, he studied at the Essen School of Music in Germany and received private tuition lessons in Berlin as well as in London. Leonard’s military career also led him to Hong Kong for a couple of years.

He returned to Britain to find the military amalgamating their regiments. “Given the fact that I was the youngest bandmaster, I honestly thought that I would be reorganized out of a job,” he said, frankly. So, he made the decision to immigrate to Canada and in 1959 landed a job as music supervisor in the Sturgis School Unit in Saskatchewan. During this time, he was successful in gaining a full music credit for music students towards graduation in all Saskatchewan schools. In addition to his duties as music supervisor, Leonard also played oboe with the Regina Symphony Orchestra.

He joined the Canadian Army in 1961 as music director of the Royal Canadian Engineers Band, Regular Force, and subsequently commanded the Canadian Forces Naden and Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Bands. Three years later, in addition to his posting with the army, he was also appointed music director of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and continued in this position until 1991, where under his leadership, the orchestra evolved from amateur to professional status.  He is also the founder and music director of the Kelowna Philharmonic Society. From 1966 to 1972, he was the dedicated music director of the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra and in 1975, Leonard was appointed music director of the City of Calgary’s centennial celebrations and formed and conducted the Century Calgary Symphony Orchestra. “I also founded and am the music director of the Burnaby Symphony Orchestra. I woke up one morning eleven years ago and decided to do it,” he chuckled.

Leonard has had a very colourful and enjoyable career. He has performed worldwide and has conducted in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Prince Philip, the Archbishop of Canterbury, President L.B. Johnson and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Nine years ago, Leonard and his wife, Janet, moved to Chilliwack, although he continues to travel and perform. He is an advisor and conductor with the Fraser Valley Philharmonic Orchestra and will be showcasing his talent on December 10th at the Cultural Centre during a performance of Amahl and the Night Visitors.

In this opera, a crippled little shepherd named Amahl lives with his mother, an impoverished widow.  Nothing is left to them of the little they ever had and they are now faced with hunger and cold in their empty house. Three Wise Men, on their way to Bethlehem, stop at the hut and ask to be taken in for the night.  When Amahl’s mother realizes that the Three Kings are looking for a newborn child and that the expensive gifts are all destined for him, she becomes bitter and envious and cannot understand why at least some of these gifts could not be given to her own child, who is so poor and sickly. During the night, while the Three Kings are asleep, she steals some of the gold from them and is caught. The moving story continues and little Amahl is eventually miraculously cured of his lameness. “It’s a beautiful story and we’re pleased to be able to present it,” he said enthusiastically.

As for Leonard, he is a well-spoken, outgoing, engaging man that has seen more in his well-lived life than many of us could ever dream of. In fact, it would take a series of novels to capture his trials, tribulations and overwhelming successes. For all that, he speaks of his adventures exuberantly yet humbly. He is rather happy and content with his life. “You have two choices in life; to be happy or not to be happy. To be happy, means that you’re healthy. I have three passions in my life which make me happy; golf, music and Janet, though not in that order,” he laughed. Leonard Camplin is a remarkable man with a remarkable life and I am the richer for knowing him.

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