Mrs. Newman, our Music Teacher

For those of us who attended Clyde River School in the late 60s-70s, we cannot let this week go by without honouring our music teacher Phyllis Newman who passed away at the age of 94. Her in memoriam highlights what an extraordinary woman she was.

Phyllis spent most of her life involved with music. She started playing piano at an early age and served as organist and choir director for over six decades at various churches including Cornwall, New Dominion, Kingston and Park Royal United Churches. In the days of one and two room rural schools, she worked as a traveling music teacher. She is remembered for organizing and participating in school and church concerts. She volunteered her talents for many charitable and fund raising efforts and played at numerous nursing and seniors’ homes. In the days before dial telephones, Phyllis operated the New Haven rural telephone exchange for The Island Telephone Co. for many years out of her home in New Haven. Phyllis and Stanley operated a tourist home and motel in New Haven for twenty years.

To the students at Clyde River School, she was Mrs. Newman, and when she arrived for music class, we did as we were told. We lined up in rows according to height and began with our scales “do re me fa so la ti do”.

With Mrs. Newman, music was not an optional, elective course; it was mandatory. We were there to learn how to sing, and sing we did, although it is possible that those who were vocally challenged learned young how to move their mouths to the music without making a sound. We prepared for upcoming school concerts held in the community hall just a short walk down the road. As the event date approached, we performed our final rehearsals in the hall…such an air of excitement among us as we summoned any God-given talent we had.

Mrs. Newman taught us how to prepare for a performance. Yes, she’d have to be strict to keep us on task and help us overcome any anxieties, but when I think back, she taught us some valuable life skills. We learned that there are times when we have to step outside our comfort zone, learn something new and stand in front of peers and community to perform. So, in order to do well (not embarrass ourselves too badly), we had to commit to the task, practice, play on the team, hold up our end, give it all we had, so on the day of the performance, we knew we had done our best. And our audience applauded us. Our parents breathed freely once again. These life skills are exactly the ones that drive people to succeed in life.

So if we have gone above and beyond at any point in our lives and we had Mrs. Newman as our music teacher in our early school years, she is one of the good people we can thank.