DIDSBURY - Longtime Didsbury High School music director Kirk Wassmer is hanging up his baton at the end of this school year, bringing an end to a remarkable decades-long career supporting the music aspirations of many, many students.
During the recent band Christmas concert at the school, a special ceremony was held for Wassmer, with teachers, students and staff members all paying tribute.
Wassmer is a native of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He has a degree in music education from the University of Saskatchewan and a masters degree in wind conducting.
He is in his 34th year of teaching, including the past 23 at Didsbury High School.
He started teaching in B.C. before taking the teaching job in Didsbury.
“I saw the posting for Didsbury and thought this would be a midpoint to get us closer to home,” Wassmer said.
Didsbury has been great place to live and teach, he said.
“I’m so thankful that we were able to raise our family here. When I graduated from university I never thought I would be a small-town teacher, but I have loved it. The support you get from a small town has been exceptional and outstanding,” he said.
Asked if the music curriculum has changed much over this time teaching, he said, “I think that is one of the things I appreciate most about what I do is that every year it is different music. The educational objectives might remain the same, but you are always looking for new and exciting and challenging music and different things to play.
“Even though the core components of my career stayed the same, the way that I get the message across to the kids changes every year. That keeps it exciting and it keeps me on my toes.”
Wassmer, who teaches Grade 9 to Grade 12 students, says the music feeder programs from the younger-age schools have been very good.
Asked if any particular student or students have stood out for him over the years, he said, “I’ve had students who are now themselves professional musicians and teachers. There have been a number of kids throughout my career who have been absolutely memorable.”
For his part, Wassmer is a musician himself, playing the trumpet, guitar and bass.
“Those are my three main instruments,” he said.
Outside school hours he sometimes plays in a jazz trio.
“That’s one of things I hope to get back into in retirement, making music for me,” he said. “I would also like to do some guest conducting and maybe some adjudicating.
“I know music will continue to be a big part of my life. It isn’t something I couldn’t just shut off. It is a part of who I am.”
Wassmer was recently nominated for the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. Former student Emily Gallant put together the nomination package.
“She decided I would be a good candidate for it,” he said. “She went through a tremendous amount of work putting the application together. I think her finished product was about 20 pages long.”
A number of regional panels will adjudicate all of the applications, choosing about 35 winners from across Canada.
“For me it was just an honour to be thought of in that way,” he said. “And I sure appreciate the time that Emily put in putting that applications together on my behalf. I means a lot.”
Wassmer’s music director career is set to end on a high note with the Didsbury High School band scheduled to take part in the prestigious MusicFest festival in Toronto in May.
“We have a really great sounding band this year so I am really looking forward to that,” he said. “It’s an invite-only festival. We received our invitation last year when we were in the Maritimes on a tour. We played a festival there and got a gold standing and an invitation to this national festival.”
During the recent school Christmas concert, Didsbury High School principal Scott MacDonald said, “DHS and Didsbury are on the map for many people in Alberta and across Canada primarily due to the work Kirk has done with our students to create one of the strongest music programs in the country.”
One of Wassmer’s former students, Alex Hutcheon, who now teaches at Cremona School, called him a legend.
“He means so much to the school and the entire community and has changed many lives for the better," Hutcheon said.
For his part, Wassmer thanked his past and present students and fellow staff members for their help and support over the years.