Profile: Gerry Rutten
by Jane Ledwell
Under an enormous wooden stereo-a 1959 model as big as a sideboard-Gerry Rutten stashes an equally enormous scrapbook of newspaper clippings recalling his decades teaching music. The clippings culminate with tributes, honours, and awards from 1994, the year he retired from teaching at Englewood School. In that year, the Englewood band received not only a gold standard at Musicfest, but also a standing ovation- almost unheard of at music festivals. The band's conductor had a pile of laurels he could have rested on.
Gerry Rutten's 1959 stereo still works. And despite nominal retirement, so does Gerry.
Since 1994, he has not stopped teaching music. He has moved beyond school walls to extend his teaching in the wider community.
During his final year at Englewood, Gerry began to work on his first retirement project: a master's degree in music education from the University of Victoria. The thesis he completed before he graduated last year is a scrapbook of PEI band history, with stories and photographs of Island bands dating back as far as the 1860s. And when photos from school bands begin to appear in the book, Gerry himself appears in many of the pictures. He was, in fact, instrumental in establishing PEI's school band program, beginning in 1966 with just 25 students under his tutelage at Colonel Gray High. By the time he retired in 1994, the Island's school band program boasted 1,872 students learning the joys of instrumental music.
These days, Island music students graduate into communities with few bands. But some groups still thrive. When his master's research led him to the still-playing Miscouche Community Band and they invited him to conduct, he agreed to take it on. He began immediately to expand their repertoire beyond marches and waltzes to include more demanding classics. Now, the Miscouche band even plays an arrangement of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" graced by Janet MacQuarrie's bagpipes.
Again expanding opportunities for Islanders to perform classical music, in September 1998, Gerry became the founding director of the PEI Chamber Orchestra and the PEI Chamber Choir. Both practice weekly at Strathgartney, and both will perform regularly to hone performance skills, "even if they have to perform for a herd of cows." He hopes both the orchestra and choir will double in size this year.
According to Gerry, the conductor's role is that of a scholar, leader, and communicator: "A conductor studies the score to know the composer's ideas and the way it should be interpreted. He then passes it on to the musicians. But-like electricity-if there's a short between the conductor and the bulb, nothing happens. The notes might come out, but not the music of it." And are the interpretations always right? Gerry laughs. "Once I thought I was always right," he admits, "then I found out I wasn't. I know now you can go to Charlottetown two or three different ways and still get there safely."
In future Gerry Rutten would most dearly love to see more opportunities for Island musicians to "be able to work here as musicians and be able to earn a basic living by their skills." He hopes that by the next time he "retires," community bands, orchestras, and choirs across the Island might even provide employment for Island musicians who share his passion for music.