Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~
After 41 years hitting all the right notes, the Naden Band musician Petty Officer Second Class Michael Savich will pack up his tuba at the end of the month and call it a career.
The band’s longest serving Canadian Armed Forces member, who has also played bassoon, euphonium, bass guitar and Sousaphone in a career spanning four decades, says he really doesn’t want to go. But on Feb. 28, he turns 60, the mandatory retirement age for military personnel.
“It will be very difficult for me to leave the band because I have had such a tremendous career. After four decades of playing music for ‘Team Canada’ I don’t think any other career path could have made me happier,” said PO2 Savich.
His current and former bandmates will also be sorry to see him go.
“Mike has committed his life to the preservation and promotion of the Music Branch, and is also the greatest archivist the branch has ever seen,” said former Naden Band Commanding Officer, Capt Matthew Clark. “I always relied on him to instill a sense of calm, and his natural ability to express proper concern to the chain of command is one of legend. Simply put, when he spoke I listened.”
PO2 Savich says his career allowed him to make a living at the thing he loves most – playing music and travelling Canada and the world.
Career highlights include playing at Vimy Ridge six times, an outdoor mass at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and Paralympics, the Calgary Stampede, and multiple appearances at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo music festival and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
“It would be unfair to pick just one event as a career topper because there are just too many,” he says. “Even the local events we play every year, we may have performed at the event 10 times but there is always something different each time that makes it interesting.”
But if he had to pick one memorable performance he says his participation with the CF Vimy Band in the 60th Anniversary of the Royal Canadian Air Force at CFB Trenton in 1984. It was a ceremony that involved over 1,200 military members marching in unison on the tarmac of the base’s runway. It held special significance for PO2 Savich because his father, Sgt (Ret’d) John Savich served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.
His father met his mother Betty when they both sang in Ontario Hydro’s choir in the early 1950s, and although both parents encouraged all five of their children to pursue their musical interests, it was his mother who kept up supporting and promoting his musical side.
“She deserves a lot of the credit,” he says.
He joined his high school’s band and shortly afterwards began his military musical career as a member the Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corp Illustrious in Toronto.
“As a teen growing up in Toronto in the 1970s, being involved in music kept me on the straight and narrow. I simply loved listening and playing music from a wide range of genres, from country to rock to classical. With the cadets I was exposed to marching and concert band music for the first time and knew it was my calling. It was a no brainer for me.”
He joined the Forces in 1976 and did basic training at CFB Cornwallis before being posted to Canadian Forces Music School at CFB Esquimalt later that year. It was a career that would see lengthy spells in all three element uniforms including the CF Vimy Band in Kingston, the CFB Cornwallis Base Band, and the RCAF’s Central Band based in Ottawa, along with two separate postings in Esquimalt.
It was his first spell at this base where he met his lifelong friend PO1 (Ret’d) Andy Reljic. Reljic, who himself enjoyed a 42-year musical career, was PO2 Savich’s bassoon instructor for two years at the CF School of Music. The two men formed a lifelong friendship with Reljic still marvelling at PO2 Savich’s warm and friendly personality to this day.
“He has embraced his career with a playful, wide-eyed and unparalleled enthusiasm that is the essence of Mike,” said Reljic. “Generous to a fault, he is the kind of person that will always be there for you, and whatever job you give him to do he will take it on with pride.”
But it wasn’t just his musical skill that had Reljic and other bandmates marvelling, it was his attention to detail and hard work ethic in the business side of the band that was also remarkable. Reljic credits PO2 Savich with being the “de-facto historian” of the Naden Band, tirelessly documenting their history for both their 60th Anniversary in 2000 and their 70th Anniversary celebration.
“When we were putting together our 70th anniversary, we had piles of boxes of photos with no captions, information or dates,” Reljic recalls. “Mike just looked at me with this big Cheshire grin and said ‘I love doing this stuff’. He has been such a big part of the band celebrating its history.”
Reljic was among 90 former bandmates who attended a special retirement dinner for PO2 Savich at the Chiefs’ and Petty Officers’ Mess on Jan. 21. A testament to how much the guest of honour is liked, Capt Clark, now Commanding Officer of the RCAF Band, travelled from Winnipeg to celebrate the occasion.
The accolades for PO2 Savich reverberated higher up the chain of command as two days later the Commander of Maritime Forces Pacific, Rear-Admiral Art McDonald, made a surprise visit to the band’s headquarters. He dropped in on a practice session to show his appreciation to PO2 Savich for his long and distinguished service to the Canadian Armed Forces by presenting him a Bravo Zulu Certificate and Commander’s Coin.
His Depart With Dignity Ceremony is slated for Feb. 27. After that PO2 Savich says he is looking forward to spending “more quality time” with his wife Virginia and his four children Kendra, Grant, Mallory and Dean at his home in Colwood.
His retirement won’t end his lifelong love affair with music though, as he is now exploring possible roles with local cadet and community bands.
Filed Under: Top Stories
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