• Kamara Hennessey

Since June is dedicated as Pride month, this takes me back to many years ago when I had the pleasure of teaching a young student who came to my home studio. Kevin was 7/8 years old when his mom decided to register him in piano lessons. I knew mom before as Kevin’s one and only older sister, Penny and my son attended the same elementary and high schools. Kevin was a lovely boy; very quiet, soft spoken; shy most of the time. At the weekly lesson he listened well and followed through with instructions. Although Kevin musical progress was on the average side, he was quite creative when it came to drawing and art as his mom often remarked. Unfortunately, Kevin lost his enthusiasm for keeping up with piano lessons and maintaining a consistent practice routine at home. I was quite disappointed when his parents made the decision to discontinue with that after school activity. I also felt responsible in my “failure” as his piano teacher that I could not keep Kevin’s interest up in a music education.

About a couple of years after the death of her husband, mom contacted me again and expressed interest in taking up piano lessons for herself. She felt it was time to make good use of the keyboard as her three children (2 teenagers and 1 young adult) were not interested in playing that instrument. Brenda and I became good friends in many ways. By having that newly acquired status ‘widow’ layered on to her profile, she now felt we shared something in common as kindred spirits in that respect; and her children can relate to my son in what it felt like to lose a father through death.

Kevin’s sister planned to get married in summer, 2006. Brenda suggested me, and with daughter’s approval, I was asked if I would play the keyboards for the ceremony and at the cocktail hour of the reception. The event was to be held in the beautiful outdoor garden setting of The Ancaster Old Mill Inn. I felt quite honoured to be asked and took a lot of pleasure collaborating with the bride-to-be and mom in the programming of the music for the ceremony. The parents favourite pieces, “The Prayer” and the theme song from “On Golden Pond” were chosen respectively for the Processional as Brenda escorted her daughter up the aisle.

In Brenda’s initial telephone call to ask if I would play the piano at her daughter’s wedding, her statement after that request was: “But, I must warn you of something and hope that you are OK with this.” “Er/um” followed by a short pause “Kevin is gay and his partner will be the MC for the reception”. Needless to say, I was not in the least bit shocked by this news. In his youthful years when I interacted with Kevin in the teacher-student relationship, I intuited that there was something different about Kevin; but, at the time as the saying goes I could not “put my finger on it”. I assured Brenda her son’s sexual orientation had no bearing on me playing in the upcoming celebratory event. Shortly after that call, Brenda invited me to tea at her home; she felt the need to talk about her son, Kevin.

Her story based on this son’s sexual orientation/lifestyle was quite insightful. In his later years in high school Kevin finally worked up the courage to inform his family that he was Gay. Brenda and her oldest son were not in the least fazed by this declaration. However, his sister, Penny could not come to terms with that fact, and as a result, for a few years her relationship with that brother became estranged; she would not speak to, or of that brother to her friends. As a young adult Kevin was in an intimate relationship, and introduced his partner to the family. His sister could not accept her brother’s partner as “one of the family”. Her mother and older brother could not convince her otherwise. They realized that Penny would need to reconcile with that issue at some point in her life.

It was in the many months leading up to Penny’s big day when she realized the importance and value of family, and finally found peace within herself to accept her young brother and his partner for who they were. Communication and good will were once more restored between those two siblings. At the wedding reception, Brenda introduced me to Kevin’s partner, the MC. From Brenda’s story I already knew of her son’s partner’s personality and career - quite intelligent, humorous in a non-offensive manner, outspoken, gregarious, extrovert; dresses a little more colourful, a children’s entertainer (puppetry/puppet master), and a producer/filming of children’s educational shows with TVO. Quite a contrast to Kevin’s own quiet/introspective conservative personality; and yet, they complimented each other quite nicely as a couple!

At the reception, while other couples were on the dance floor and his partner stayed engaged in his MC duties, Kevin came over to my table and sat beside me; joining in a glass of wine. We got into a very interesting conversation where Kevin felt at ease to open up to my inquiries. He shared what life was after he discontinued with piano lessons, his feelings around his father’s death while he was still attending high school, his sister’s initial response to his “coming out”, and him meeting the love of his life during his university years. I often speculated that if his father was alive then, he would have been like his daughter; having a difficult time perhaps accepting his son’s “abnormal” sexuality.

Being the creative and artistic person that he was, Kevin pursued Architecture as a profession. If memory serve me well I think he said that he went on to pursue postgraduate studies in an MBA program. There was pride and passion in his voice when Kevin spoke of his work as an Architect designing buildings, and his working knowledge of infrastructure and aesthetics that are involved in the construction process of residential and commercial structures. He referred to names of well know Architects whose works inspired him; one being the famous Frank Lloyd Wright. Kevin, like me, was drawn into that Architect’s vision and ingenuity in how he integrated architecture into nature as was realized in his masterpiece “Falling Waters”. I said to him that I had seen a documentary on that particular building. We both agreed it was an iconic and timeless work of structural art. I realized that for Kevin, architecture was not just a profession, but more of a vocation. Sitting beside me was a handsome, confident young man in whose company, for a short time, I thoroughly enjoyed being with on such a special evening. That evening I could not have asked for a better companion to spend some quality time in stimulating conversation that appealed to my own sense of aesthetic and passion.

Together with Kevin’s immediate and extended families, and friends it was indeed a privilege to be amongst those celebrating the beginnings of a new life for his sister and his brother-in-law. In that moment I acknowledged and celebrated Kevin too for his creativity, dedication, and drive as he contributed in the designing out of so much beauty to make this world a better place to live in. One could not overlook also Kevin’s partner valuable contribution to society in his particular work in the entertainment industry, and with it an education that focus on morals and positive human values presented to parents and children through the medium of Television.

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I came across a Facebook post of a cute photo of the toddler with a captioned comment: “Never

too young to start learning piano ... how old were you?”

On reflection, I did not start formal piano lessons until I was 14. Never learned any other instruments in my youth. My mom, a designated RN, on her meagre monthly salary, invested in an old upright honky-tonk sounding piano when I was 9 / 10 years old at the time. I also speculated my mom was not aware that the piano housed a nest of termites when she purchased it from whoever! Placed against a wall in our home’s enclosed gallery/sunroom, I was perpetually sweeping away grains of wood dust that lay along the edges of the piano. My older sister (who also took piano lessons) when exposed to dust this would incite an asthmatic flare up; so, she was spared that chore!

There were times when I practiced scales / chords / repertoire / studies for exams, I envisioned the outer case crumbling which would result in exposing the inner workings of the piano. Humid tropical condition had a significant effect on the hairline cracked soundboard and loose pins; hence the instrument could not hold the tuning for too long. Strings would often break when the tuner adjusted some notes to the required pitches! How I managed to pass my ear test in the graded exams was remarkable! Due to worn down hammers, the instrument’s overall sound was quite bright / harsh. Because of my love for music, I adapted / resigned to practice with diligence in spite of those setbacks.

Before taking formal lessons I would pick out tunes that I heard on the radio and put some notes in the LH that sounded quite OK; not knowing then that I was technically and musically "harmonizing" the melody on the keyboard. Mr. Woodruff, the only reputable piano tuner on the Island that my mom trusted, was always so kind to show me his own process of writing out a melody. “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” was the song Mr. W. alway played when he was finished tuning the piano. I would observe his leaping waltzing left hand, and marvel at him playing three or four notes at the same time along with the melody.

Recommended by Woodruff, my mom contacted a piano teacher who travelled to her students’ homes. Mrs. Claxton, started me on the Laila Fletcher ABC and beginner John Thomson methods. As a teenager I felt so self conscious in lacking musical skills as a beginner while listening to those much younger students performing at higher levels at Mrs. C's piano recitals. However, after completing the beginner levels, I was groomed each year to quickly prepare for the Associated Board of The Royal Schools of Music and Trinity College of Music London (U.K.) syllabus exams in practical and theory Grade I - VIII.

When I came to Canada in 1977 I decided to continue with piano studies. In an Ad. that I came across in the community paper I finally found a piano teacher who lived about a five minutes drive from my home. As advised by her, I was to focus once again on preparing for RCM practical VIII-Grade 11 exams. I redid the advanced RCM Rudiments in order to be awarded the level 8 certificate, as it was required as a theory prerequisite. My piano teacher subsequently recommended another teacher who would prepare me for the RCM Grade III and IV Harmony and History, Counterpoint exams.

It is often remarked “Life begins at 40”; and how that was for me in pondering ...! My ten year old daughter, Martha-Ann’s death on January 2,1994 was a profound experience that was life altering. Losing her was the catalyst to mobilized me to pursue tertiary studies. Being away from a school institutional environment for over twenty years I felt so inadequate pursuing academics in that early middle-age decade of my life. As it was offered in the Humanities, I redirect my music education by enrolling in a B.Mus.(Hon) program in the department of The School of Arts, Drama, Music (SADM) at McMaster University in 1995. My theory teacher, Francine - an alumnus of McMaster University, and Masters in Musicology degree from University of British Columbia - had faith and confidence in me that I can do the undergraduate music program. Since I was quite involved volunteering as a Facilitator for moms’ bereavement support groups program at Bereaved Families of Ontario, Burlington/Hamilton, my university journey ended up to be part time studies for eight years. Throughout the semesters, I realized in all those decades of private piano studies how limited I was in repertoire exposure (selected in the Graded Syllabus that I was examined and evaluated on).

In the Woodwinds Methods Course I was inspired by those young university students (with high school band experience) when they performed their own composed/arranged pieces. After graduating in 2003 I decided to pursue saxophone lessons. Wind Instructor, Buddy Aquilina (Jazz Musician, Berklee graduate, Arranger/Composer, Director of "Aquilina Quintet”) at Long & McQuade, Burlington location, accepted me as his student. I persevered with Buddy for 12 years. He opened all of my senses and soul into the jazz genre and styles. After 4 years of studies, Buddy literally "dared" me to join a community band. With no prior band experience, the idea of me performing in a large group with adult musicians (more skillful and experienced professionals and amateurs) was intimidating; hence I felt not ready to move into that kind of environment. But, I eventually bit the bullet and took up that personal challenge and joined the Burlington Concert Band (BCB) in 2008. To this day I look forward to going to Monday evenings rehearsals in preparations for planned concerts throughout the year. What I have personally gained the most in a large ensemble, and continues to be, is a nurturing of five areas of development - Membership, Influences, Feelings, Differences, Productivity. These were areas Glory St. Germain highlighted in the Corporative Learning Theory model / “master key” in the Ultimate Music Theory Certification Course (UMTCC) that I invested in 2013. Having pursed the Ultimate Music ‘Elite’ Educator’s program, my never ending professional development (NEPD) has also expanded my networking opportunities on the global platform.

A year after joining the BCB I took on additional responsibilities as an Executive Member; I am currently the Past President. This platform has also helped me to become a more effective and affective leader from within; in turn provided me with a sense of positive empowerment and confidence to build on “Team Leadership” with my musical colleagues.

I am always learning and growing along side with my young and mature piano students when we collaborate at the lesson sessions. Teachable moments become apparent at times when a musical concept can be used as an analogy to other life’s experiences. In her book 101 Ideas for Piano Group Class: Building an Inclusive Music Community for Students of All Ages and Abilities; Chapter 3 Pg. 19, Dr. Mary Ann Froehlich states: “We are music educators first, and piano teachers second.” In my “ageless” educational pursuits, that is my prime objective/directive!

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The Magic of Music Movement, is a Facebook platform that was introduced by Ultimate Music Theory, Founder, CEO, and Host, Glory St. Germain. In it, she presented the Global Healing Power of Music Summit a few months ago over a four-day period. The summit featured music educators in countries from different Continents. Although I was not a part of this particular summit, I took the opportunity to invest in the Passport in order to view and listen to those selected music educators who engaged in conversations on several key elements related to the summit’s topic.

When each individual profiled their own personal experiences, and their “whys” for creating and developing their own “unique” brand of a program to service themselves and students,

it gave them a voice to highlight their expansive knowledge in how music as a disciplined activity - educationally and recreationally - provided an ideal supportive outlet for healing. As the emphasis was on the healing powers of music, each educator explored and declared the great influence that music - in whatever shape or form on some level - has had on the physical/mental/emotional/spiritual well being of a person living through or coping with a crisis/trauma. Therefore, it informed the viewers of how music opened up the world of the human psyche in response to that need to become realigned with an energy that is rehabilitative, positive, and steadfast.

In these unprecedented times where the world is still “battling” the Covid-19 pandemic and the upsurge of the variants, it has become more apparent how this has created concerns on the critical issue of its effects on the mental and emotional health in students (from as young as nursery school to university level), parents working from home, caregivers, and frontline workers. It is intriguing how an invisible creature, unleashed a year ago, has had such a forceful impact on global society. In the valiant attempt to curtail the rise of infections and reduce the fatality statistics, the pendulum swings of imposed lockdowns and curfews further the chaos. On the other side to taking on such drastic measures, the world has seen an escalation in the wave of riots that subsequently led to unlawful and criminal activities. A study in anthropology often raises discussions on why the human species has that innate need for exercising equality and freedom of rights to live life on one’s own terms/preference; not to be held hostage/bondage to a system of restrictions and discrimination; hence, there is always that opportunity to rebel with a cause in order to serve one and other’s interest when those states are prolonged, and intolerance rises to the surface. Therefore, the perception of exercising democracy by intent and design becomes the liberating factor.

Through all of the above, music as an expressive outlet continued to be the one constant in a person’s life that strives to maintain unity and harmony inwardly and outwardly. The Entertainment Industry is one that unrolls a colorful carpet that is unrestricted in its length and width. On the positive side of the pandemic, musicians from all walks of life - for economic survival and to maintain social engagement - were motivated to become more inventive and creative in how they were to deliver their products and services to the masses. One saw that within the Global HPM summit, it opened up a double door entrance invitation into a world order represented by educators, performers/entertainers, researchers, advocates who continued to socially and economically thrive through all of the chaos.

On March 13, 2020, when the world appeared to “spin out of control on its axis” in the sense of becoming more destabilized in its communication amongst nations attending to their citizen's needs, this thrust many more music educators and entertainers to learn to adapt and accept living in another kind of new world reality. As such, it allowed them to stay connected (locally, nationally, and internationally) to their students and parents, their colleagues, an audience. Over the months, individuals became more comfortable virtually “Zooming” in and out of meetings/performing / rehearsing/teaching online. Any selected virtual platform served that ‘modus operand in a nonthreatening distance in the comfort and safety of one’s own bubble on the home front. The online world had also given more access to vast musical resources to keep students engaged and feeling less isolated during lockdowns and safe distancing. Testimonials from students and parents declared how weekly interactive music lessons have “saved their lives” from the mental, emotional stresses that they were experiencing on a daily basis that were also eroding at their ‘spiritual’ sense of self-awareness and well-being!

As I listened to educators sharing their stories in The Global Healing Powers Of Music Summit they reminded me of my own experience decades ago with an adult student. I had the pleasure of teaching Irene for six years. In her retirement, Irene decided to pursue piano lessons because she never had the opportunity as a young child. Because of her love for music, Irene could never quite understand how some children (and their parents) who had the opportunity, gave up on making the effort to keep up with piano lessons and practice in the long term. In our sixth year - mid-term - Irene was diagnosed with cancer. Needless to say, she pursued chemo. treatment that interrupted her commitment to weekly lessons for a while. However, once Irene was in remission she resumed lessons with me. Unfortunately, a relapse occurred and cancer came back where it metastasize to her liver and bones. But, that did not deter Irene from her determination to keep up with weekly lessons. Although I gave Irene permission to discontinue, she insisted otherwise. Each week I could see a weakening of her muscles and cognitive abilities to keep up with reading and playing. At one point in her declining health, Irene literally crawled up the five steps, hanging on to the railing spindles to get to my LR studio. With my help, when she allowed (Irene was a fiercely independent woman), I assisted her to the piano and proceeded to facilitate her in her very very slow pace of learning. Fortunately, I am one who is blessed with patience and empathy and was grateful for the opportunity to have facilitated Irene during that period in her life that turned her into an adult student with special needs. Irene finally had to discontinue lessons with me when she was admitted into palliative care. At Irene’s funeral service, I had a wonderful conversation with the music therapist who worked at Carpenter Hospice where Irene stayed for about a month. She said that Irene, upon arrival and settling in, requested to have a small digital piano keyboard on a table by her bed. Irene managed to pick out and play short tunes on the keys up until the day she died. What I am certain of is that even though the act of playing or listening to music on a CD did not bring back the desired physical healing for Irene, those outlets served her well during the time of palliative care. Her soul’s spirit was lifted, and when the time came it made death and the transition to an ‘after life’ a very peaceful one for her. By my estimation that was another level of healing for Irene.

On Day 4, Session 4, Glory St. Germain interviewed her former piano student Connor who started with her at age 4. As a prodigious pianist at 15, he suffered a near-fatal brain injury that initially paralyzed his right side. Connor’s long rehabilitating journey through the healing process to bring him back to playing the piano again (with both hands) is an inspiring one. Connor has since graduated from university in Jazz studies and is a gigging musician and recording artist. Since his recovery, Conor has been going to schools in Manitoba where he shares his story, “Music Healed Me”. What impacted me though was his other narrative on how he felt when his best friend from high school recently died in March 2021. Music for Connor became the salve that helped him to grieve this loss in a positive and healthy manner. This personal experience led him to compose the song “Gone Too Soon”. In turn, Connor’s story inspired me to write the following poem as a testament to the healing powers of music on the mental and emotional angst that one experiences when someone special dies. When I shared my poem with my fellow poets/classmates in my Poetry Circle, they too were touched by it.

A CURE: Music
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