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Michelle Chyzyk bids farewell, greets new challenges

A teacher who has imparted a lasting love for music and theatre in Virden schools has stepped up to teach at Brandon University.
06 - Michelle
Musician Michelle Chyzyk at her grand piano.

A musician who has brought exciting music to and through Virden’s school students has changed her role. Michelle Chyzyk has stepped down from her teaching position in Virden school to teach a new generation of teachers - students at Brandon University School of Music.

Chyzyk expresses in a post on her Facebook, “I have always loved convincing students (and adults) that WHO they were was totally unique and special.” Judging by the many comments she has succeeded in bringing out the best in several generations of music and drama students.

Chyzyk has worked in the school system for 34 years in five different schools. Initially, she taught in Reston and Sinclair School before moving to Virden’s schools: Mary Montgomery, Goulter, and Virden Collegiate Institute.

In this Q & A, hear Michelle’s goodbye thoughts and her excitement for the future.

You’ve retired as a school teacher, but you are working in the School of Music at BU. Do you see yourself as retired?

Michelle: “Yes, retirement from Fort La Bosse is a big deal. I have accepted a teaching job at BU for this winter term but it is a small job compared to the career I have spent in Virden.”

What are you teaching there?

“I am teaching the fifth year Advanced Vocal Choral Methods course and a Choral Instructional Methods course for all second year Music Ed students.”

Brandon trained trombonist Bob Fraser, now playing with B.C.’s Victoria Symphony, posted a congratulations, ‘So important to have Music Ed students mentoring with someone with your experience.’ What’s your connection with Bob Fraser?

M: “Now that’s a great story. Bob Fraser is a brilliant trombonist and we graduated from Neepawa Area Collegiate Institute in 1983. We wrote our high school grad song together. In high school we played in the band, sang in the choir, and we had a small singing group called Just Us. Then we attended BU School of Music together and sang in BU’s only Vocal Jazz group ever DV8. In the summer of 2020, we performed a set of music at the senior’s residence in Neepawa where my mom and dad live.”

What drew you to Brandon University?

M: “It’s a lovely fit - a way to keep teaching and learning. My career has been a great way to grow with my learners - first experiencing teaching elementary music, then high school, and now university.”

Who are you working with?

M: “I am working in the Music Ed faculty along with four other inspiring Music Education Professors, Dr. Dagenais, Dr. McCallum, Dr. Scott, and Dr. Chadwick.”

How’s your new schedule?

M: “This week I presented two sessions at a music ed conference and next week I will be presenting in a University of Regina Choral class. I am also being interviewed by a lady who is writing a book about Manitoban choral conductors.”

How does it feel to be stepping away from the development of talent through Virden schools?

M: “I feel very much the same way Paul Maurice did when he stepped away from coaching the Winnipeg Jets. He said, ‘It is a time for a new voice.’ I feel exactly the same for VCI. A new person will create a new direction and absolutely take it to a new level. I’ve given it my all, but I know exciting things will be coming next.”

What will you miss the most?

M: “The amazing transformation when students let down their guard and become the unique and magical individual they were meant to be - the natural high they reach when they feel seen and beautiful and special. The arts accomplish this better than ANYTHING else. Those pre-pandemic end of year, or after production, sing-songs where everyone sings their heart out and gives hugs to all their friends. Our world and especially our young people are craving connection - choral music provides a place to belong.”

“I will really miss the colleagues (current and former) who have become friends - brilliant caring teachers who taught me so very much from the very beginning of my career right until the end.”

What of the future of theatre and music within Virden?

M: “Oh, our love of the arts is deep in our community - so many people have grown it and it will continue to thrive because of our healthy culture - excellent private teachers, fabulous school music educators, our thriving festival, our large dance program, Virden Theatre Productions, but most of all schools and administrators who believe in music and support it in many ways. Without school programs being supportive, the AUD would become empty pretty quickly.”

You had a vision for the future with Konektis. Will you continue with Konektis? And what about Virden Theatre Productions?

M: “I will continue on conducting Konektis and doing community musicals. Konektis will continue to grow our identity in the Canadian choral music scene. It has been exciting to see what we have created and how far our following reaches. Our pandemic mode has been very casual but we look forward to the day we can proceed fully again.”

Will you have more time to yourself? How will you use it?

M: “Travel that does not need to follow a school schedule, some adjudicating and workshopping choirs, more time for family and friends, improving my golf game, would love to learn to tap dance, and play stand-up bass… or harp.”

“I’ve always envisioned teaching voice in my own house to all the sweet neighbourhood young people with a cup of tea in my hand in old age, haha - we’ll see.…”