After 32 years of teaching band, Colleen Oscar-Swan wrapped up her career conducting Walkin & Talkin with the Kindersley Composite School Jazz Band.
From the drums to the tuba, Swan can pick up almost any instrument and play, in fact, the first instrument she learnt was a drumset–a homemade ice cream pail drum set! “I was always fascinated with drumming, so I would sit for hours in the basement with my homemade set,” she said.
Growing up on a farm between Kindersley and Eston, Swan’s love of music began in the family home. “My Mom’s side of the family is very musical with many of them being piano, guitar and fiddle players and my Dad’s mom and sister both played piano. So music was a part of all family gatherings and events.”
Swan began taking piano lessons and singing at the local music festival around the age of five. A few years later, she realized she was a natural at the trumpet when she tried her brother Jim’s. “This was truly the start, and it lead me to select the trumpet when I got into grade five.”
Swan gives credit to her Eston school band teacher Mr. Larry Pearen, for giving her so many opportunities. Through his encouragement, she became involved in concert band, jazz band, marching band, ensembles, and solo work. “Our Eston Band travelled extensively performing all over the country. Mr. Pearen chose me to be one of the drum majors of the marching band when I was in grade nine.”
A drum major is also known as the field conductor and is in charge of the ensemble (band) during shows, competitions and parades. “During field shows, I would be involved in conducting the band. This definitely was the spark that initiated my love of conducting.”
Swan was then given the opportunity by Mr. Pearen to conduct a Jr. Jazz Band in her last two years of high school. “Having the opportunity to be involved with teaching younger students helped me decide that music education/being a band teacher was what I wanted to do. The passion, enthusiasm and opportunities that Larry brought to every rehearsal was inspiring and I thank him so much for being the start of my career.”
After receiving her Music Degree at the University of Saskatchewan, Swan was hired by the late Elda Clark to be a band director in the former Kindersley School Division. “I knew when I took the job, I would be working with the incomparable Steve Mealey. I had known Steve from my high school days, as I would sometimes come up to Kindersley to compete in the Kindersley Music Festival,” explained Swan.
However, Swan didn’t have to worry about working alongside Mr. Mealey who quickly became her mentor and close friend. “I consider myself very lucky to have been able to work alongside him for several years before he retired.”
Over the years, Swan’s career has been robust, with many commenting on the 30 Goose Festivals she has marched in. “When people comment, I smile because actually the start of me marching in that parade was back in my high school when our Eston Marching Band would come up and march in the parade every fall.”
In addition to looking back fondly on her marching days, Swan recalls how in her first year of teaching, she took the high school band on a nine-day B.C. tour. “It was my first successful trip,” she laughed. Along with that memory, she also shared a few of her favourites, which were too good not to share.
“One of my favourite memories was, the first time competing at the Coeud d’ Alene Music in the Parks band festival. Part of participating in the festival is after competing you spend the rest of the day having fun at the amusement park. All the students from all the bands that are competing are also there. At 5:00 p.m. you then gather together and they make the announcements of who are the winners of each of the various classes. We were the only Canadian band there and the chants of the U.S.A were very loud. My students being the very proud Canadians they are started with CANADA and completely drowned out the American students. Then it was announced that we had won our class…well the excitement and elation was incredible but more so was the pride that we were Canadian. We accepted our award and then at the top of their lungs, the students started singing our national anthem. This was such a proud moment for all. On that same trip when we were walking to Safeco Field to watch the Seattle Mariners play, a group of girls were confronted by a gentleman on the street. He asked what was with this very large group of students all dressed in red t-shirts with the maple leaf on it. The girls told him we were a concert band from Kindersley, Saskatchewan, Canada and we were going to watch the ball game. He said “I love Canada”…would you sing me your national anthem, and of course as proud Canadians they did just that. By the time they were done, they several spectators watching and cheering them on.”
Another one of her favourite moments was when her students were incredible ambassadors. “On so many occasions my students have made me so proud of being such amazing ambassadors of our school, town, province and country. We wanted to take the students to have supper at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Seattle, so I phoned to see if we could get in. I told them that I was bringing 90 students plus 15 chaperones and would like to have supper at your restaurant. The manager very politely apologized and said that they would not be able to accommodate us as they no longer accept high school groups because of all the trouble they have had with groups in the restaurants. So, that ignited my sweet-talking skills… I told him I could appreciate where he was coming from but I asked if he could take a chance on us. I guaranteed him that my students would be nothing but amazing citizens in the restaurant. Long story short…I convinced him but he was VERY apprehensive. A moment that I will never forget… him and his entire staff lined up by the door to applaud and shake every student’s hand. He could not believe what he had just witnessed in his restaurant with 90 high school students… he said he had never seen anything like it. I of course was beaming with pride. This is only one story… I have had so many of these situations where hotel people, restaurant people, people from the public have sat near us, all in disbelief of the politeness and respectful behaviour they are seeing from these teenagers. I have been so proud of all my groups.
Lastly, she shared this… In 2013, at the Grey Cup Parade in Regina, I took a group of Grade eight students to march in the massed band for the parade. Well, that was one cold day. Many of the groups ended up not coming to participate but we tough, rural folk were there, bundled up and ready to perform. Many of the instruments would freeze up and even freeze onto the student’s lips but they marched on with a smile on their face. The cold made it that much more memorable!
Over the year’s Swan’s dedication and talent has not gone unnoticed. She has enriched the lives of so many students by not only guiding them but laughing alongside them–by allowing them to discover and grow their love of music.
It’s because of all of this, that we say, congratulations on your retirement Colleen, and THANK YOU.
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