David Stewart admits it was tricky adjusting to his current job, “after-all I was trying to replace God,” he said of the former Kwalikum Secondary music teacher Bill Cave.
Stewart describes hearing a band at a festival in his early teaching days “that knocked my socks off, and that turned out to be Qualicum Beach (school band).”
He was teaching in Ucluelet at the time and jumped at an opening at KSS in 1991, where he’s been ever since. It took a few years for new students to grow up under his leadership, Stewart admits, while those who missed Cave moved on.
They kept entering festivals, but it took a few years to build the program back up.
The year after Stewart was hired, John Evans was hired to run music programs for earlier grades.
“All the new students coming up allowed me to build the program at the top end,” Stewart said.
And build they did, and as the program continued to grow and find success, Stewart ran himself ragged.
“I like the analogy that a high school coach might have one or two teams per season — we ran 12 teams at once,” he said of the various stage and jazz bands and choirs of different ages.
He’s now able to joke about incidents like taking a band to another school and giving what turned out to be a surprise performance before realizing they were at the wrong school.
At nationals one year, he said he missed rehearsals as he was running back and forth to various bands.
“I was burning out, working from 7:30 to 5:30 every day and weekends,” so they eventually hired a second music teacher.
Dan Craven still works closely with Stewart and is staying at the school, providing continued strong leadership for the program, Stewart said.
Stewart also continued existing initiatives like having Juno-award-winning sax player Phil Dwyer come in to work with the students.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a school of any size that has that kind of track record at festivals and with scholarships,” Dwyer said.
“And when you consider the small number of students they have to draw upon, it’s really impressive.”
“One of the things people really should know about Dave is the dedication of time and through-the-roof level of commitment he brings to it. He loves what he does.”
“He doesn’t search out the limelight so people might underestimate how hard he works. I hope he gets recognition for what he’s done.”
“He’s able to convey music in a way that is enjoyable, that people can understand,” said Andy Telfer, former chair of KSS’s music parents committee.
“He managed to hold people’s interest year after year, students really stuck with it.”
“He was well loved by students and faculty alike,” Telfer said.
And while he will try to take some time off to enjoy retirement, Stewart already has post-teaching projects stacking up.
He currently plays music with two groups, the Arrowsmith Big Band and his own jazz quintet, and several others have asked him to join.
He will continue to play, sing and compose, may be giving some private lessons and he’ll try to find time for things like travel and working on his old British sports car.
He said he’s happy knowing he’s leaving the program and KSS Music Academy he spent seven years starting in the hands of good teachers, including former student Brent Kellas, supportive parents and the entire community.
Catch a final glimpse of the Kwalikum music students for the season in the school music room at 1 p.m., Monday, July 6 with the free Sea Jazz concert.