For much of the second half of the twentieth century, Canadian-born Robert Farnon was widely regarded as the world's greatest living composer of Light Orchestral music. Robert Farnon awards were also regarded as a quality popular song arranger, having influenced the majority of the top writers on both sides of the Atlantic in the second half of the twentieth century. He has also composed memorable film scores and could have achieved considerable fame and fortune if he had chosen to settle in Hollywood. But it is to our advantage in Britain that he chose to live with us.
He was the third of four children born on July 24, 1917, in Toronto, Ontario. The eldest was his sister Norah, and the other three were all boys who had successful musical careers. Brian (born November 27, 1911) has had a glittering career on the US West Coast, first with Spike Jones and then at resorts such as Lake Tahoe. Dennis, the younger brother, rose to international fame with his quirky scores for the "Mr. Magoo" cartoons (August 13, 1923). Later in his career, he composed a large amount of music for London publishers' background music libraries.
Bob Farnon became a household name while still in his teens thanks to his numerous radio programs, particularly the long-running "Happy Gang" for Robert Farnon society. He was the lead trumpeter in Percy Faith's Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra, as well as a contributor to the show's vocal arrangements. Faith decided to leave for greener pastures in the United States in 1940, and Farnon was invited to take over the baton. This gave him an excellent opportunity to hone his arranging skills, drawing the attention of Paul Whiteman and Andre Kostelanetz.
Like many other young writers, he aspired to write more serious works, and by 1942, he had written two symphonies that were performed by major orchestras in North America. He had a tendency to dismiss these works (much to his disappointment with British music)
The first steps of being a musical arranger and Canadian-born composer
To the dismay of his admirers, he was dismissive of these works, and all suggestions that they are polished for new performances were politely but firmly declined. Perhaps his reluctance stemmed from the fact that he "borrowed" themes from both symphonies for later works.
Farnon arrived in Britain in September 1944 as conductor of the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, working alongside Glenn Miller and George Melachrino, who led the American and British bands, respectively.
Farnon received his discharge in Britain at the end of the war, finding the musical scene more suited to his talents, allowing him to work in films, radio, and the recording industry. He had discovered an invention in Britain.
In Britain, he discovered a previously unknown genre of music. It's referred to as Light Music (not an entirely satisfactory title for a musical form which can embrace many different styles). It is commonly referred to as "Concert Music" in North America, but it was rarely a part of Farnon's musical repertoire during his adolescence.
But that doesn't mean he was unaware of its potential. He'd been working on a series of "symphonies" that would later serve as the foundation for songs like "Willie The Whistler" and "Jumping Bean." One valuable musical aspect of WWII was that musicians conscripted into the forces were no longer subject to commercial pressures, allowing them to develop their ideas and put them to the test in public asCanadian-born composers.
Great music: Farnon relished the freedom it provided
One valuable musical aspect of World War II was that musicians conscripted into the forces were no longer subject to commercial pressures, allowing them to develop ideas and test public reaction without fear of financial repercussions. Farnon relished the freedom it provided, but he didn't have to worry about disappointing his audience: they loved every one of his innovative ideas as Robert Farnon's orchestra.
This brings us neatly back to Captain Robert Farnon's discovery of the British musical scene. For the first time, he heard the music of Eric Coates, Haydn Wood, Charles Williams, and other Light Music light music, and he realized how closely his own ideas had, unknowingly, been moving in the same direction with instrumental arrangement.
Of course, he brought a virile, North American freshness and approach that seemed at odds with the slightly more "genteel" British style. Farnon's and his contemporaries work, in fact, gave new life to a musical form that was on the verge of extinction during the 1950s.
Farnon did not limit himself to Light Music. After all, he had grown up in a world of big bands and show tunes. While living in Toronto, he made frequent trips to New York, where he frequented Minton's, widely regarded as the birthplace of "bebop." It wasn't uncommon for him to be asked to join a jam session. Dizzy Gillespie and others were close friends of his at the time.