The Coalition for Music Education in Canada would like to pay tribute to the late Russell Stachiw, former Chair of the Board of Directors with the Coalition, and a true champion of music education.

2018-11-14T11:07:25+00:00September 18th, 2018|

Russell’s time with the Coalition followed a long and memorable career with the Toronto District Catholic School Board, where he worked for 36 years: first for 29 years as a beloved band teacher at Neil McNeil High school, and later as Supervisor of Instrumental Music for the school board. He was a member of The Canadian Band Association (Ont.) and a voting member of the Canadian Music Centre, in addition his involvement with TubaFest. Russell’s passion for music education made him a fierce advocate for the arts within the TDCSB. His son Peter remembers: “There was a time that Music and the Arts were at risk of being cut due to budget constraints, but my dad always advocated at board meetings the extreme importance of keeping these programs. This passion led him to the Coalition for Music Education in Canada.”

Russell was an early supporter of the Coalition, and as Chair he guided the organization through a period of major change and growth. For his outstanding leadership and service, he was invested as an Honorary Life Member of Coalition in 2006. Jane Cutler, his colleague and another former Chair adds “I have fond memories of Russ – a warm and caring music educator who was a real leader in advocating for quality music education for all students.”

Early notes
Russell began his formal musical studies at the age of 7. It was the accordion which first struck
his fancy, and from there expanded his horizons to include bass fiddle and percussion. He went
on to teach accordion throughout his teenage years, and to lead his own instrumental combo,
with an eye towards joining the school board.

If music be the food of love…
With his wife Jean — a singer and longtime member of the Sweet Adelines Barbershop chorus–
Russell built a family full of love and a home filled with music. His three children each received
formal training on multiple instruments, and the Stachiw love of music continues to trickle down
to his nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“We grew up in a musical house. Whether it be Sunday night dinner listening to Men of Brass on
the radio, or my brothers and my musical tastes of classic rock, our Dad instilled in us an
appreciation of all types of music. Music growing up included opera, classical (especially Bach,
Beethoven and Mozart), Brass Bands, and of course Ukrainian Music.” – Peter Stachiw

There is Music in the air
This appreciation for melodies outside the standard band repertoire was one of the many things
that endeared Mr. Stachiw to his students. In addition to the classical, brass band and jazz
music which he loved, he also filled the halls of Neil McNeil High with John Williams’ film music,
tunes from popular musicals such as West Side Story, and eventually even rock music. It would
seem he widened the horizons of both his audiences and his students. One such student
recalls: “He gave me an appreciation for music that wasn’t radio driven rock or disco or punk at
the time”

Among Stachiw’s admirers were many well-known artists, who credit their teacher with helping
them to develop a firm foundation in life. The late John Candy was among his pupils, and stayed
in touch throughout the years, and Styx singer and keyboardist Lawrence Gowan gave the
following tribute:

“Thank you Mr. Russ Stachiw. You had a remarkable teaching skill that you shared so
generously and reached so many. Your music room at Neil McNeil still lives in my mind and all
the minds of those you taught. The click of your baton on the dais followed by that precise
cutting through the air of your conducting style was a sight to behold. That’s the one I will
remember you by. You exuded a true musical passion that stirred and inspired those of mild to
those of intense interest… And will for years to come! Bravo”

Other students were quick to recall his positive outlook, infectious smile and lively sense of
humour. They remember him as fair, holding students to high standards while simultaneously
inspiring and empowering them.

Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.
During his nearly 3 decades at Neil McNeil, Russell Stachiw brought his band around the globe:
throughout North America, the Caribbean, South Pacific, Europe and Asia. They travelled to two
World Expos (1967 in Montreal and 1970 in Japan), performed for politicians (including Prime
Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1975), and even the Pope. Mr. Stachiw had the honour of conducting
the Special Papal Band and Choir at the Papal Mass in 1984, when Pope John Paul II was
touring North America.

On the skin of an orange
Russell came to be known not only a creative artist, but also as a creative problem solver in his
role as a champion of music education. Those international tours were a huge financial
undertaking, but Mr. Stachiw found a solution:

“In the 80s, in order to help students go on band trips overseas, he would order truckloads of
grapefruits and oranges from Florida. For every case a student sold they received money off the
cost of the trip (approx. $5 per case). This was wildly popular with students and their families.
Some students sold enough cases to pay for their whole trip. I remember going into his music
room at the school and the fresh smell of citrus. This was at a time when fresh fruit like this was
not readily available in Toronto.” – Peter Stachiw

One of his students recalls the impact of such travels:
“It was [Mr. Stachiw] who made possible my going to Trinidad with the band in 1979 and
convinced my parents to let me go, and also helped finance my fare through funds raised at
concerts and through alumni. I will always remember my time there and will always be grateful
to him.”