On the first Monday in May each year, schools across Canada celebrate the impact of music and music education with Music Monday. To mark the occasion, we invited several prominent Canadian musicians across a variety of genres to pen a letter to a music teacher who has greatly influenced their career. Then, when possible, we spoke to the teacher about the letter. Here, blues artist Suzie Vinnick praises her high school band teacher, Peter England.
My name is Suzie Vinnick and I am a professional musician originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, now based in Toronto, Canada.
I've had a multitude of music teachers over the years that have nurtured my love of music. It's been a challenge to focus on one for this essay, as I've learned so many important music and life lessons from them all.
Mr. Peter England was my band teacher all through my years at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He directed the high school's junior and senior concert bands, junior and senior jazz bands, wind ensemble and the school marching band.
Mr. England, from what I recall, dressed in a shirt and tie most days. He wasn't warm and fuzzy like some of the music teachers from my early days (the ones that rewarded us with stinky stickers for doing our weekly instrument practice) - he was strict, but efficient and fair and kept his door open to all the music students. I remember many lunch hours crowding into his small office, chowing down on lunch with my fellow bandmates preparing for whatever band rehearsal was coming up next.
I remember my first Grade 9 junior jazz band rehearsal - there were two guitar players,
myself and another, but no bassist and a lonely bass there potentially for the playing. A little light bulb went off in my head - I asked Mr. England if it would be all right for me to try playing bass. He gave his approval and I grew very excited at the prospect of learning a new instrument. Little did Mr. England, or I, know that I would eventually go on to earn a part of my musical living as a bassist.
Mr. England gave us a lot of extra opportunities to play music in addition to the bands he directed – I was also involved in jazz combo, saxophone quartet
and Dixieland band. He let us rehearse in the music room and rehearsal spaces in our free lunch hours and after school. He would occasionally bring in music teachers and clinicians from the University of Saskatchewan and other parts of Canada and the States to teach and coach us. This opened the doors of possibility by showing us a musical world outside our band room at Holy Cross.
Mr. England also arranged band trips and traveled with us to competitions in Ottawa and Edmonton, and Expo 86 in Vancouver. We worked hard preparing for these opportunities so that we would shine at the performances, and we did. He also gave us time on these trips to enjoy the sights and sounds in the places we visited - I remember visits to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, shopping at the West Edmonton Mall (a thrill for a teenager).
Mr. England and I didn’t always see eye to eye – I was pretty stubborn and that, coupled with being a teenager, probably made it challenging for him to teach me sometimes. I’m very grateful to him for his patience and all the endless hours he put in to make sure his music students came away with a strong music education (with a few life lessons thrown in for good measure).
I always seemed to score well in music on my report cards. I remember Mr. England coming up to me after one report card and commenting on my interpretation of a particular saxophone piece, asking if I'd worked with a teacher on it. I didn't have a saxophone teacher and told him I'd figured it out on my own, the notes and the vibe and feel. He seemed impressed and it gave me a little inkling that maybe I was onto something with this music thing.
I’d like to thank all the people who had the vision to see the importance of music education and the doors it can open for students. I've had so many incredible music teachers over the years and I'm grateful for the nuggets of wisdom I've learned from every one of them.
I’d like to say kudos to Mr. England and his commitment to making the Holy Cross High School music program the incredible, supportive and musically nurturing program that it was
I don’t think I would be the musician that I am today if it wasn’t for his music program.
AUDIO CLIPThe CBC's David Carroll spoke with Mr. Peter England about Suzie Vinnick and got this reaction.
You can read more letters and responses at our Music Monday page. And let us know if and how you plan to make music part of your day on Monday, May 7.
Music Monday: Canadian musicians thank their teachers
Letter to my teacher: Alex Cuba
Music Monday with Luke Doucet
Kinnie Starr: Recorded Live off the Floor @ the Music Monday Fundraiser in Vancouver
on Apr 27, 2012