Hearing a child sing a tune we have just learned as he or she walks through the hallway or stairwell inspires me to keep at it.
—Larry Weckwerth, music educator
In his 37 years with Winnipeg School Division No. 1, Larry Weckwerth has worn many hats.
He started as a speech pathologist and eventually became an elementary music specialist.
For the past 15 years he has taught general music as well as recorder and handbells. He has also led an award winning elementary school choir - all this at Laura Secord School in Winnipeg's Wolseley area.
Every two years the students put on a musical and the whole community pitches in to build sets and costumes. Weckwerth remembers these productions fondly. "This hat was from Pirates the Musical," he says.
"Michelle Cook makes all the costumes even though her child graduated from Laura Secord School long ago," Weckwerth continues. "And she made these great pirate hats one year. She even made one for me which I wore for the last chorus of each performance. It was a lot of fun."
SCENE asked Weckwerth to take a fond look back at his career:
Do you remember your first day with Winnipeg School Division No.1?
My first day at work with WSD #1 was at Ellen Douglas School, home of the Child Guidance Clinic. There I met my area service director, Larae Miller; my colleagues; and my unit secretary, Gail Lorenz.
One lesson I learned early on in my career was that a good secretary or clerk usually knows more than anyone and is a valuable asset in navigating the often unfamiliar waters of the bureaucracy.
How did you move from speech pathology to teaching music?
After working for three years in the Child Guidance Clinic as a speech therapist (I serviced 13 schools and inherited a case load of over 150 clients), I decided to go back to school and finish a music degree that I had begun earlier. So off I went to Valparaiso University in Indiana I studied there for three years and earned my MA in music.
What have you enjoyed the most about being an elementary music specialist?
The biggest joy comes to me when I see and hear how much the kids love singing and playing. They have a real appreciation for song and melody. Hearing a child sing a tune we have just learned as he or she walks through the hallway or stairwell inspires me to keep at it. It also confirms that I must be doing something right!
What have the students taught YOU over the years?
Larry Weckwerth in his classroom at Laura Secord School (CBC/Thacker)
The children continue to teach me so many things. I always try to be aware of what is coming back to me from the students.
Some of the things I notice are the amazing capacity for students to learn quickly, the desire on the students' part for excellence and artistry and also that the students' self esteem is authentically nurtured when they themselves know that they have done a good job or achieved a particular goal.
I also believe that there is a strong correlation between what a teacher expects from students and the end result. If you have high expectations, you provide a challenge that is often met very successfully.People have raved about your musical productions at Laura Secord - how do people react when they witness such a high quality performance by these young students?
I think that people are surprised. Thinking of our choir in particular, it's an amazing accomplishment (on their part) to work together so effectively in a world where they are so challenged by technology.
I think today's technology (which often purports to "connect") in essence often isolates and separates them from real contact and co-operation with their peers. Doing something creative and artistic with 200 of your peers is unusual in today's culture.
What is your secret for making these productions happen?
Should I really give up my secrets? I try to find quality repertoire for the children: beautiful melodies and quality words. I look to tried and true composers and poets. I listen to other choirs for ideas that I might use.
Another major factor is that we practice and master the work we plan on performing. Is it always 100 per cent? Not always. But I feel we can be proud of the performances that we present publicly. It all comes back to self esteem as well. When the kids feel good about the pieces that they are performing they usually do very well and consequently get some very positive authentic feedback from the audience.
None of this happens without hard work and long range planning. I also appreciate the great support and help from a number of my colleagues. Can you describe a highlight or moment in your career that stands out for you?
One of the many highlights was when I was presented with the Michael J. Proudfoot award by the Winnipeg Music Festival in 2011. (This award is given to a conductor who exemplifies a passion for excellence in choral music.)
We were asked to perform at the annual concert of choral excellence and after we finished I was totally surprised as the MC started talking about me. I didn't really know what was going on! It was a great honour and I cherish the recognition dearly.What will you miss most when you retire?
I will miss the children the most of all. I love teaching them and opening up the world of music to them. I hope that what they have experienced will keep them interested in and loving music for their whole life.Larry Weckwerth looks forward to travelling, resting, gardening and volunteering in his retirement.