Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"This is messy, dark, ugly.": Gods and Monsters

In high school, if you’re lucky, you encounter one exceptional teacher. He makes you care about what he cares about, whether it’s the French Revolution, or the periodic table, or the three-point shot. If you’re really lucky, that teacher becomes your mentor and ushers you into adulthood. Your enthusiasm bleeds into your other studies, into your friendships. You astonish everyone, including your parents, by performing unexpectedly well. His lessons stay with you for the rest of your life. For me, and for hundreds like me, that teacher was Graham Wishart, the head of the music department at Oakwood Collegiate Institute.

Of all the concerts I played under his baton, one stands out. Not because it was our best concert, but because it was a great moment for Wishart and therefore a great moment for me. It was in 1990, my Grade 10 year, and we were in a tiny New Brunswick fishing village on Deer Island—the kind of place where men serve as volunteer firefighters and women make tuna casseroles with cornflakes on top. The community centre where we were scheduled to perform had no stage, so we set up in a corner of its basketball court. Wishart was in his 40s then and a dashing figure. Tall, thin, prematurely grey, he had preposterously bushy eyebrows that would have looked cartoonish on anyone else. He was the only man in the room wearing a suit. From my seat in the cello section, I watched him walk to the front of the ensemble with long, confident strides. He raised his arms, suspended them in the air and waited, catching the eyes of a few key musicians. The bleachers were packed with what seemed like the entire town. There was total silence. Then, despite the wretched acoustics, the gym filled with exuberant Mendelssohn. Wishart danced, and we followed, attentive to every breath, every tilt of his head, every lunge of his body. We may not have sounded like the New York Philharmonic, but that’s how we felt. Professional. Together. Exhilarated. Graham Wishart and his posse of downtown Toronto teens had transformed the Deer Island community centre into Carnegie Hall. I had no idea at the time that the man who inspired us to play like that, our favourite teacher, was a methodical child molester.  (more...)

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