It was another Christmas party at the Blessin family household and everyone's favourite alto saxophone musician was not expected to perform. Not because he was unwilling or absent, but because he had recently suffered from a small stroke that left the right side of his face temporarily paralyzed.
Confronted with a challenge that would sideline other musicians, Charlie Young devised a solution that was simple, creative and humourous. To the pleasure and astonishment of friends and family, Young placed the mouthpiece of his woodwind instrument into the corner of his mouth and clipped the other side closed with a clothes-peg.
Although unorthodox, the method allowed him to play his alto saxophone in accompaniment with wife Mary Young, whose fingers were skillfully dancing over the ivory keys of the piano.
Longtime friend Bill Coombes and best friend John Blessin shared anecdotes and stories of Young as he sat in the audience, nodding and laughing at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre on Oct. 25. For enriching the community with their musical talent, Young, 94, and his late wife Mary, who was an esteemed pianist, were honoured with a tribute fountain that was custom-made for the pair who doubled for decades as husband and wife and as musical counterparts.
The 10-foot fountain travelled from the U.S. to Canada and was created by California artist Chuck Brush. A monument of entangled brass and woodwind instruments, the fountain is comprised of trombone bells, a french horn, a frumpet, concert and marching mellophones, a marching french horn and a tuba bell-all piled in a vertical heap of organized chaos. Small rivulets escape from different mouth pieces, and resting at the top, befittingly, is a saxophone and piano keys.
Young said he was "humbled" and "very honoured" to have received the fountain.
"It's fabulous, just unbelievable," he said. "Whoever made it couldn't have made it any better, just gorgeous."
Young, who is a member of the Chilliwack Rotary Club, plays at weekly meetings and
whenever someone would like to hear him play.
"It was just a matter of practice and the more you practise the better you got," Young said of his talent. "I love playing whenever possible."
His long-standing musical history begins in Britain, where Young played the sax and clarinet professionally for the British music hall scene. At just 14 years old, Young was playing and travelling all over England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
When the Second World War broke out, Young was conscripted and forced to trade his instrument for a gun. After passing initial training, he joined the military band and was stationed in Scotland, where he met his future wife and prominent, local musician Mary
The two married in 1944 and stayed together until her death in 2008.
After the war ended, Young went back to work as a professional musician and moved to Canada after a bandmate, who had recently relocated, told him about the quality
of life-higher pay, big cars and a life without post-war rationing.
He flew to Canada in a North Star Cargo plane, while Mary and their daughter, June, then seven, travelled by ocean liner.
Young quickly cemented his reputation as a skilled musician in Canada during his time with the R.C.M.E. Band at Camp Chilliwack, along with 55 other members. Later on, Young, Mary and bandmates, Les Baxter and Tommy Hardin, became a musical fixture at the swanky Harrison Hot Springs Hotel. For 30 years, they played in the hotel's Copper Room, where they were widely known for their dance music including polkas, swing, latin, show tunes, fox trots and ballads.
In their later years, the couple continued to endear crowds with their music at community and cultural events.
The fountain will be on permanent display at the Centre.
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