By Darren Lum
Published Feb. 9 2017
This year’s recipient of the 2017 MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award has a strong Highlands connection.
With friends family and her students looking on Dianne Winmill originally of Minden was shocked at the award presentation when she was presented with the Juno-inspired crystal statuette by Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy with Bazil Donovan and Colin Cripps on Feb. 1 at the band’s studio in Toronto.
She said “Oh my gosh. Oh. Oh my gosh Jim Cuddy. Oh my gosh thank you.”
Winmill a music teacher for North Hastings High School in Bancroft the past 16 years won the award for her “outstanding dedication to inspiring and nurturing the musical growth of Canadian youth.”
MusiCounts is a music education charity that is a division of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences who give out the Juno awards. It established the award close to 10 years ago.
Along with the presentation at the studio Winmill and her students were given a tour of the facility and an opportunity to record. This award came with two grants totalling $20000. The NHHS music program receives $10000 to enable the school to fix instruments and purchase new ones and the other $10000 goes to Winmill. Winmill also won two tickets to see the band perform on Thursday Feb. 2 in Toronto at Massey Hall.
Winmill and her husband Cam will be given the VIP treatment when they attend the upcoming JUNO week in Ottawa. They will attend the Chairman’s Reception and the JUNO Gala Dinner and Awards and get to walk the red carpet for the Juno Awards Broadcast on April 2.
The daughter of Jim and Nancy Garbutt was taken aback by the attention at the awards presentation seconds before seeing Cuddy.
“I can’t believe that so many people are interested in this story: a music teacher from Bancroft Ont. This is pretty wonderful and I’m just so excited my students get to … shoot sorry” she said holding up her hands to her face tearing up. “That my students get to join me. This is so great.”
She added her two friends helped bring the students and appreciated having her husband there.
“I’m so grateful to MusicCounts for believing in an award such as this for teachers in Canada and so grateful to Blue Rodeo for being the sponsors this year. I’ve been so overwhelmed so far with just their generosity offering up their studio space to us today. It’s so exciting” she said.
Everyone she knows are “huge” fans and they were living vicariously through Facebook posts made by those that could come down to the band’s studio
Winmill who graduated from Haliburton Highlands Secondary School in 1990 was notified she had won this year’s Blue Rodeo sponsored award from MusiCounts close to a week before the presentation but had no idea about Cuddy and the band members coming. Past sponsors for the award include the Tragically Hip and Rush and the Rolling Stones who sponsored the first ever award.
“We are thrilled to sponsor this award as teachers like Dianne do endless work to inspire their students and keep music alive in schools which is something that is very important to us” said Cuddy in a press release.
“I think the value of music programs is immeasurable in the development of a young person’s identity in being part of a community” said Cripps in a press release.
The teacher with 20 years of experience has promoted music education in the school and her community. She has been responsible for implementing a first-of-its kind Royal Conservatory music program is involved in several community music organizations and takes her school band to perform for other schools and community groups.
Winmill has worked off and on at NHHS since she graduated with a bachelor of education in instrumental and vocal music from the University of Western Ontario in 1995.
Before the visit Winmill told the Times’ sister paper Bancroft this Week that this recognition is more than just about her as it also recognizes the hard work of past and current NHHS music students and the broader importance of music within the school curriculum.
Her love of music started with her parents who may not have played any musical instruments but filled the house with music particularly disco during the late-1970s. They held “concerts” standing on the couch listening to the Partridge Family booming from the 8-track hi-fi stereo. The albums she remembers most growing up were by Burton Cummings Barry Manilow the Bee Gees or Kenny Rogers.
Winmill can still remember being in awe of now-retired music teacher Glen Carter conducting student musicians while sitting on the gym floor at Minden’s Archie Stouffer Elementary School.
“When I was seven we had a school assembly. I remember sitting on the cold hard gym floor at Archie Stouffer Elementary School while this amazing man waved his arms in front of a group of people playing a bunch of instruments I had never seen or heard before” she wrote in an email before the presentation. “I found out that his name was Mr. [Glen] Carter. I got off the bus that night after school ran down the stairs to the basement to where my mom was sewing and told her that ‘when I grow up I want to be a music teacher like Mr. Carter.’”
This led to her parents enlisting the services of Melissa Stephens a young piano teacher at the time who taught at the home of Lorne and Grace Coburn in “McKayville” in Minden.
“I would walk over from school for my weekly lesson and I progressed quickly. Over my 12 years of piano study with Melissa I competed in the North Hastings Music Festival yearly (and of which I am now the vice president) and earned my Grade 10 piano from the Royal Conservatory of Music which prepared me to successfully audition for post-secondary music school” she said.
The ASES graduate said her parents received help for her through her cousin Colleen Morrison who had already been studying music at the University of Western Ontario before she got there.
Winmill’s parents and siblings Jay Dan and Janene all still live in the Highlands.
She said living in a small town like Minden provided her unique opportunities to perform and develop her music.
“Opportunities I probably would not have had if I had been a small-fish-in-a-big-pond in a city. And being at a small elementary school Glen was able to offer me opportunities to try any instrument I wanted and that knowledge gives me confidence in my ability to teach band every day.”
The memories of early performances are still vivid like how Stephens would take her to fundraisers all over the county to perform and the trip to Calgary with her high school stage band to perform at MusicFest Canada on the heels of the 1988 winter Olympics. She can still remember the energized atmosphere of Calgary soon after the world event but in particular she will never forget the outpouring of support her band received for the efforts to fund the trip.
“Because we were from a small town our community totally embraced the opportunity and supported our fundraising efforts so that we could take our little band from our little town across the country to perform at MusicFest Canada” she said.
When she first learned of the award she thanked MusiCounts for “believing in the necessity of an award such as this one. There are so many elementary and secondary school music teachers across this country who work just as hard or harder than I do. I feel like I am representing all of them when I accept this amazing honour.”
With files from Tony Pearson.