The road to here

With the official start of the festival only days away, the title of this post might refer to the behind-the-scenes toiling required to get this year's festival ready for launch. But I hope you don't mind if I take a more personal tack today.

I had the opportunity this past Friday to help mark the retirement of long-time Lawrence Park College Institute music teacher - and my high school band teacher - Ken Hazlett. It was a celebratory event at Chalker's Pub, with colleagues and recent grads toasting, roasting and performing in tribute to Mr. Hazlett. For his part, Ken looked relaxed; when I asked him about retirement he put it this way: "Wake up and go to work, or wake up and don't go to work. Hmm. Let me think about that."

I would, without a doubt, not be where I am today without the music program at LPCI. Over five years, I was given ample opportunity to perform in a variety of settings, as a section player, section leader, soloist and even conductor. If I wanted to try something musically, Ken and his colleague Jerry Dmytryshyn did whatever possible to foster my interest and provide me with an outlet.

Ken Hazlett was an especially inspiring figure for me. Not necessarily in the "O captain, my captain" or Mr. Holland's Opus kind of way; more in the "let's just have fun making music every single day" kind of way. He wasn't prone to long speeches; he was in fact much more likely to make some sort of sarcastic comment or be the first to joke around in rehearsal. But when it was time to prepare for a concert, or I needed some advice, he was always serious, welcoming and encouraging. And, given the remarks by colleagues and students alike last Friday, his influence was clearly felt far and wide.

What has impressed me most about Ken Hazlett over the past 15 years or so, even as retirement approached, was his desire to keep learning. Take for example jazz. When I was in high school, he wouldn't go near it. Honest. He'd barely even listen to it. When Jerry Dmytryshyn retired, Ken asked if I would be willing to work with the stage band to ensure it's continuation. I was happy to do so. After a couple of years, though, my schedule changed, and Ken took it on. And, over the years, he committed as much to the stage band as he did to the concert band. He spent time researching music, took the band to festivals and competition, and even regularly started seeing live jazz - I was always amazed to bump into him at The Rex or some other jazz concert. (He's already got his tickets to this year's Keith Jarrett concert.)

Even though I haven't been a student of Ken's for one or two (or twenty - eek) years now, I feel I'm still learning from him. How to foster growth. How to seek out knowledge. How to make positive decisions. His passion for music - and for teaching music - is evident still today. (In fact, he's not taking it too easy in retirement - with colleague Les Dobbin he's starting up adult stage and concert bands in Etobicoke.)

And so I say - congratulations Ken, thank you for everything, and have a blast.

If proof is needed to support the argument for music education in the public school system, it can be found in Ken Hazlett, the many teachers like him, and the thousands of students whose lives they have touched.



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