New Brunswick

Don Bossé gives up his classroom baton, but not his love for music

After decades of teaching and pushing for better arts programs in schools, Don Bossé is passing on the baton.

Fredericton High School says farewell to teacher who spent career promoting music in schools

For more than two decades, Fredericton High School and Don Bossé have been making sweet-sounding music together.

Friday marked the grand finale. After 35 years of teaching students how to play, read and love music, Bossé is taking some time for his family and himself.

"When I get out of my chair, my bones tend to creak a little bit more," he said jokingly.

Don Bossé talking about his 35-year career as a music teacher. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

The music teacher who received three B's and a C in music on his Grade 1 report card started his career at Connaught Street School.

He was surprised that the school system didn't put the same emphasis on fine arts that he enjoyed as a student.

"I had music everyday from Grade 5 to Grade 12, and it was part of the public education."

Elementary schools had music education, but there were no other programs where students could practise and play. He took it upon himself to create a band program, where students could develop music skills and a chance to perform in front of an audience.

In 1986, Bossé found the resources to bring the elementary school band to the Expo '86, in Vancouver.

"I truly believe that they have an excellent sound for an elementary band," he said.

The music teacher taught at the elementary school for 11 years, while also working at schools in Devon and Keswick Ridge.

At Connaught Street, he taught singer-songwriter David Myles. 

But that was just the beginning of Bossé's nurturing the talents of his students.

The teacher made his way to Fredericton High School, where he taught for 22 years. He was an advocate of improving the school's music program for the talented and the eager.

Bossé and some of his students using the recording equipment he has set up at Fredericton High School. (CBC)

Bossé also applied for grants to purchase better instruments and recording equipment. Throughout his years of teaching, he estimates he's gotten around $300,000 to enrich students' musical experience. When he couldn't afford something, he cajoled.

"If you have a vision and you have the desire to make it happen, you can make it happen," he said.

His passion for music and skills as a teacher haven't gone unnoticed. 

In 2016, Bossé was honoured at the Junos with the "MusicCounts Teacher of the Year Award." He was presented the award by Canadian rock band Rush.

The 2016 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award went to Don Bosse, centre, and was presented by Rush band members Geddy Lee, left, and Alex Lifeson. (Barry Roden/Canadian Press)

The dedication Bossé kindled in his students persists. Many of his former students credit Bossé for their being able to follow their passions, whatever they are.

Andrew Daigle, who teaches music at McAdam Elementary, said Bossé was one of his first mentors.

"It's been humbling in a way," Daigle said. "Hopefully, trying to do the same thing that he's done and keeping his legacy going from that."

Andrew Daigle, one of Bossé's former students, is now a music teacher at McAdam Elementary school. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Gina Hyunmin Lee, another former student, is now a professional pianist in Toronto. She's performed in master classes for celebrated artists such as Lynn Harrell, John Perry and John O'Conor.

"I would send him emails just to keep in touch about the struggles that I was having," she said.

A leader.

Bossé demands a lot from his students but remains kind and encouraging. He respects his students, and his students respect him.

"And the best thing? The students," Bossé said, choking up.

The music teacher created a safe space for his students to be artists and to thrive at what they do.

It's Don Bossé's final curtain call, and he's walking away with a standing ovation.


Catherine Harrop loves a good story. She has been a journalist for more than 25 years.