We've all been told that music is an important part of life; it pervades every aspect of our culture and society. Appreciation and love of this art form is often cultivated at a young age, in our elementary years through first-time singing experiences, learning how to find notes on the xylophone, or exploring the unique colors of the recorder.

It is further nurtured through music programs offered at the secondary level, when the concert band plays a piece together for the very first time and excitement ensues over the recognition of the tune (yes, that was the melody of Harry Potter!); or when individual practice results in the success of learning all the notes of the chosen instrument.

Audiences are wowed when a senior concert band or stage band performs music that connects with their emotions, drawing them in to very poignant moments and we applaud the hard-working students for their level of musical maturity. For the students involved, the musical experience is also about the friendships that are cultivated in the music room, as they become part of a unique, creative community that provides support within the sometimes impending walls of a large high school.

“The rest is history”

Having attended Rosemere High School in the late 60s, Mr. Michael Wilson remembered how the music program was well respected as one of the top programs in the city. Driven by the passion of three full-time music teachers, there was music every day of the week; any students who wanted to “get more music, got more than they bargained for”: band rehearsals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, theory class on Tuesday and Thursday, and after school rehearsals twice a week! During this time, there were three concert bands: junior, intermediate and senior and a jazz band involving students from Sec. 3-5.

Claiming he “wasn’t much of a student but loved music”, he quickly found a niche in the music community that was established at the school. Having already been introduced to the trombone through the Salvation Army Brass band system, he had played the instrument for two years before entering Secondary 1 at Rosemere.

The students were kept busy with two or three performances each semester, festival performances and band trips- one major trip every year- which of course, featured the excitement of the bus rides! Mr. Wilson’s most vivid memory was travelling to Rochester, New York on an American high school exchange and spending a day at the Eastman School of Music, one of the premier music training centers in North America. Noting the strength of the American programs, he pointed out how many of the American students studied with teachers at Eastman and had access to top quality musical equipment.

Following his graduation from Rosemere High School in 1970, Mr.Wilson went on to study at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal and it was the encouragement of one of his music teachers at Rosemere that had led him in that direction. This teacher was just finishing off her Concours at the Conservatory and would often invite her colleagues to give private lessons to the music students at Rosemere, one of whom ended up as Mr. Wilson’s teacher. Through strong encouragement, he auditioned, was accepted to the school and “the rest is history”!

Since graduating from the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal in 1975, as a professional musician Mr. Wilson has performed with such organizations as l'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Ottawa, the McGill Chamber Orchestra and I Musici de Montréal. As well, he has performed with international musicians including Dizzy Gillespie, Diana Krall, Renée Fleming and Luciano Pavarotti. He is currently a member of l'Orchestre Metropolitain de Montréal as well as the Vic Vogel Jazz Band and teaches at Vanier College and Concordia University.

“Close your mouth, flies might go in”

Yawning can bring about many things in life, some things expected, some things not. In Mrs. Debbie Summerlin’s case, it was hearing her high school music teacher, Mr. Helmut Winkler, reprimand fellow classmates when they dared to yawn in the middle of band rehearsal. After all, flies in the mouth would make it understandably difficult to play an instrument.

Mrs. Summerlin, now an elementary music specialist at St. Lambert Elementary, fondly remembers her music teachers, Mr. Helmut Winkler and his colleague Mr. Frank Warbis as the force behind the music program at Rosemere High School during the 1970s, inspiring students like Mrs. Summerlin to pursue music later in life. At Rosemere High, Mrs. Summerlin also found herself in a musical niche, where she “discovered something she was good at and then was encouraged to get better.” Wanting to play the tuba in Gr. 7, she had to settle for clarinet but soon after, would transition to the bari sax because the clarinet was just not working out! Many music classes were held throughout the week and various ensemble experiences included concert band, jazz band and saxophone quartets. When asked about any particular memories, Mrs. Summerlin recalled how in 1972, Mr. Warbis amazed his beginner music class with the introduction of the Moog synthesizer- yes, the very first “a piece of wood that made sounds”! Other memories included a concert featuring Buddy Rich in the Rosemere High auditorium; the band rehearsing in the auditorium under the direction of a baton made of twizzlers because the conductor had recently given up smoking; playing in the pit orchestra for the school musical “Mame”; and stage band performances in the large school foyer. Mrs. Summerlin attended Rosemere High during a time when band trips to Europe every two years were a drawing feature, in addition to trips to New York and Queens. During the Gr. 11 trip to Germany, students even had the opportunity to enjoy a tour of Beethoven’s house in Bonn among many school performances in “auditoriums”, the equivalent to the North American “secondary school”. Language skills were often tested as students were billeted in family houses where the language spoken was not French or English!

When asked how her music experience at Rosemere High School paved the way for her path as a music educator, she concurred that it was the passion of her teachers and the diversity of musical opportunity at RHS that pointed her in the direction she is now.

Student, stagiaire and teacher….

As teachers, it’s not often that we have the opportunity to return to our former secondary schools as stagiaires and then later, as teachers. For Mr. Alain Juteau, one of the music educators at Polyvalente Sainte-Thérèse, this was his path; not only was he a music student at Rosemere High School during the late 70s but he also completed his stage there as a music education student. When Mr. Alex Thomson, one of the esteemed music teachers retired from teaching at Rosemere in 1989, Mr. Juteau was hired to replace him and carry on the tradition of musical excellence at the school. He remained at the school until 1998.

As a secondary high school music student, Mr. Juteau recalled being a part of a very strong music program. With three music teachers at the helm including Mr. Alex Thomson and Mr. Helmut Winkler, there were music classes offered at every level and a jazz ensemble. He also fondly remembers the band trips to Europe, specifically to Holland for the Tulip Festival.

Later as a music educator at Rosemere, Mr. Juteau managed a concert band of 130 students and embarked on taking the students to music festivals, as a means of diversifying their musical experiences. Also during this time at Rosemere, while the school was divided into French and English sections, he conducted an Elite Band that involved students from both sections.

Now at this point in his career, Mr. Juteau is part of a music department that maintains a premier music program at Polyvalente Sainte-Thérèse in addition to spending time as an adjudicator of honor bands here in the province. He fondly remembers the musical influence of his teachers at Rosemere High School and the strength of the program while he was there.

Moving forward…

As a new teacher to the Music Department of Rosemere High School, I am eager to contribute to the rich tradition of the Rosemere High School Music Program—a program that has nurtured many musicians and musical audiences. Looking to the future, we look forward to fostering this development once again as our mission is focused on providing a structured musical experience that will enhance a student’s education and impact them for life. To end, you’ll find below a quote from a music educator who is at the core of my inspiration as a music teacher:

“The purpose of music education is to get us to love music, not as amusement or entertainment, but for its ennobling power to make us better by arousing in us what is good, just and beautiful.”