For 30 years, Geoffrey Parr has captivated Caledonia Secondary School with an array of symphonies.
But come June, that melody will come to an end as he packs away his cabinets stacked with music sheets and readies for retirement.
“It’s a big deal… I’m emotionally attached to this. It’s something I love to do and in the end, you always remember the good things,” he says. “There have been some good wonderful moments and wonderful people to share it with.”
Since 1987, Parr has been teaching and conducting music in Terrace, whilst encouraging his students to fully understand and appreciate the power of it.
“There’s been times where things have just clicked. And it’s not always on stage… sometimes it’s in the room when some wonderful things happen,” Parr explains. “Music gives everybody emotion, whether listening on their device or [at a concert], it just makes you feel something. And even if you don’t like it, it’s still making you feel something.”
For Parr, he’s stood on both sides in the music room at Caledonia — as he once was a student himself there.
Having picked up a saxophone in Grade 6, he carried on playing and eventually joined the high school band where he says led him to discover music in a different way. He was guided under then-music teacher and school band director, Jim Ryan, who “took him under his wings” and gave him the opportunity to hymn along.
According to Parr, Ryan was a well-known musician and composer in the region. He founded the Terrace Community Band and the Terrace Symphony Orchestra, and put together “The Spirit of Terrace” song which is logged in the national musical archives in Ottawa.
[When you’re] beside him and hear him play it was sort of almost by osmosis that you would get things [in music],” Parr says. “I got to play with his director’s band and then we were travelling around the Northwest playing these big band gigs, at dances and stuff. So, it became more of a personal relationship and I think when you talk to kids now what they remember is the teachers who they have [something more] with.”
He says Ryan eventually became a good family friend and they kept in contact as he left Terrace to pursue a degree in music education at the University of British Columbia.
It took him 10 years to return to Caledonia. Ryan was on medical leave and the other music teacher was in the transition of moving, which opened up a spot for him.
“It was only four and a half years since I actually came out of [university]… I have never been the star, but I was able to keep up,” Parr says. “But they assumed I knew everything [since I went to Caledonia]… it was a stepping stone and then you just sort of jump in.”
Throughout his teaching career, Parr says he’s strived to turn music into an experience. By enticing his students to learn new skills, like playing an instrument or learning how to sing, he wants them to see how far it can take them beyond the stage itself.
He believes that anybody has the ability to learn the basic components of music, even if they’re don’t have the talent or desire to pursue it professionally.
“Some people will take some time, some people will never get past a certain point. It all depends how much personal time they put in it and how much personal time they get,” says Parr. “There are people with less skills than others and your job as the director of the music is to let them have the experience at their level… you can rewrite things to make everybody feel valued and enjoy it.”
From conducting countless orchestras, working with a variety of musicals and leading band tours, Parr says music has a way of bringing people together and he has seen many friendships form over the years because of it.
“When it’s their thing, you’re on the team, you’re in the band… At the end of spending six days on the bus together [on tour], everybody understands everybody.”
With his teaching career coming to a close, things have come full circle as he remains connected with many of his students who have continued in the music realm. He’ll often run into them at conferences or at events, where they will give updates on their careers since they graduated from the school band.
“There have been lots of people that have come out of here that have been quite successful musically and are still doing it,” he says. “There’s actually been a few of them that have also gone on to become music teachers.”
For Parr, leaving isn’t easy. He’s already begun clearing all his items gathered over the decades in his music room to make way for the new teacher. He plans on still playing recreationally but with the countdown to summer, it’s turned into a time of reflection as he realizes how fulfilling his life has been with music and being able to pass on that joy to others.
Although he doesn’t know who will take his place, Parr says he just hopes they will continue to encourage the students to play and ignite their potential.
“These kids are capable of amazing things… when they can feel 600 people applauding for them in that theatre, you can see that their faces are just [happy],” Parr says. “Keep playing, keep being involved in music, don’t spend all that time on it to never do it again.”