When Kevin Hearn was in Grade 7, his remarkable teacher sent him out,
blindfolded, into downtown Toronto for the afternoon. "I learned to
start listening for music in everything. It expanded my tonal
vocabulary," says the keyboard player for the Barenaked Ladies.
Peter Oleskevich taught music theory at St. Michael’s Choir School, an
all-male Catholic school in downtown Toronto that has an emphasis on music.
He sent out about half a dozen boys at a time, in pairs, one to lead his
blindfolded partner around in the neighbourhood of the Eaton Centre, Moss
Park and St. Michael’s Cathedral. "Our assignment was just to listen
to sounds for the afternoon," says Hearn. "I took it seriously. We
were supposed to pick out sounds and then try to write music to what we
heard, whether it was birds or car horns."
Hearn remembers that once between classes he and some friends were writing a
song in the piano studio, when Oleskevich stopped by. "He was very
encouraging. I think the song we were writing was rather bleak and he said,
‘You should try writing songs that talk about the good things in life,
too, because there is a lot to celebrate.’"
Hearn took his advice. He reports that he was totally absorbed in music and
that Oleskevich "did some great stuff to lead us to thinking about
music beyond the theory of it."
In Grade 13, Hearn was at Inglenook Community School in Toronto. He
remembers Rob Rennick there for being "just very hip and down to earth
and he’d always organize creative events for the students to take part in
and he’d always take part in them as well. He would write songs and play
them for us on the piano. He wrote a song about his lawn and how much he
liked sitting on his lawn and mowing it or watering it. It was weird and
Although Hearn talks first about music, Rennick taught art and geography.
Hearn says, "He encouraged us to read books that were outside the
regular class. He brought books in that he really liked as well as the books
that were part of the course, books by Canadian authors like Robert Kroetsch.
A book called What the Crow Said was very strange and funny."
Rennick remembers talking with Hearn about whether he should continue with
his music or go a different route. Rennick recalls, "As an artist, I
know how difficult it is to make a career of it. But when I heard Kevin’s
music the first time I walked into the lounge, I thought he would take on a
career in music for sure. He has a very interesting sense of humour and is a
very creative and sincere person."
Like Kevin Hearn, Jim Creeggan talks first about his music teacher,
Kathleen Fraser-Collins. She taught him strings and choral music for five
years at Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate in Scarborough.
Although he was always interested in music, Creeggan says the Frase
"introduced the fact that there were no limits to what I could do with
He explains: "She would come up with ideas and she’d have us get into
groups of four and we would go off into the corners of the auditorium on our
own and we would have to come up with a composition and come back after 20
minutes with something to play for the class."
Creeggan participated in all the musical shows, of course, and learned
different types of musical styles, knowledge that comes in useful in his
current job. He plays double bass, electric bass, violin and cello with the
He says, "In the Barenaked Ladies we play different styles all the
time. From those years when I was experimenting and backing up
different acts and those variety shows with the different music — it came
from those years that she was there supporting us. She was with us in the
He describes Fraser-Collins as an incredible musician. "Her love of
choral music has just seeped into my bones. She was my string teacher. I
learned the joy of singing in harmony. She really loved it too. Later she
invited me to play with her Scottish country dance band and that was quite
an honour. That took my music in a whole new direction, too."
From the perspective that being 15 years out of high school brings,
Creeggan reflects, "I think at that age it is hard to feel that you can
do anything. But the thing about working up to a performance is that we
would work and work and get it really tight and then we’d do the
performance and then we would have accomplished something. It gives you the
belief that if we did it once we can do it again.
"And I think that is the biggest benefit for me — that in those years
that trust in myself was cultivated from these small, short-term rewards.
She rocks," he concludes, "She is still rocking."
Creeggan’s other big interest in school was running, and he remembers in
particular some elementary school coaches, including Barry Allum at Joseph
Howe Senior Public School, whom he had in Grades 7 and 8.
"Mr. Allum was a tough, tough teacher. He was good because he had high
standards for everybody. It didn’t matter who you were, he was getting the
best out of everybody. He was really supportive, into the competition, but
not at anybody’s expense.
"I was always late for school and I would have to do detentions. He was
supportive of me, but when I screwed up, I would have to do the time."
Kathleen Fraser-Collins now teaches at Vankleek Hill Collegiate in Vankleek
Hill in the Upper Canada District School Board. It’s where she went to
high school. She has always wanted to teach. "I had a such a great high
school experience," she says. "I wanted to pass it on if I could.
It’s a job I love. I love music and I love education. It’s a nice
The Frase, the nickname bestowed around the time Creeggan was her student,
and which is now on her licence plate, was not at all surprised at
Creeggan’s success. "Jim was a phenomenal student, extremely
talented. All the way through high school he was very self-disciplined, very
enthusiastic. Both he and Andy, they kept you on your toes as a teacher.
They had very inquiring minds.
"I knew they were destined for something."
Andy Creeggan, Jim’s brother, also was a Barenaked Lady but is now
studying composition at university.
Two years ago, Fraser-Collins asked Jim and Andy Creeggan to come back to
Sir Oliver Mowat to sing in a choir for a memorial ceremony. Her husband
asked them for an autographed picture because he thought it would be good to
hang one in the studio. But, says the Frase, "They both raced home and
came back with these two beautiful framed things." They were the
autographed CDs marking the 100,000th CD of their song Gordon.
They now hang in Fraser-Collins’ studio in Vankleek Hill, where her new
students are impressed that she taught the Barenaked Ladies. "Only
two," she points out.
She laughs when she hears that Creeggan was surprised to learn, in his fifth
year, that Fraser-Collins didn’t play a stringed instrument. "It’s
one of these things you have to do as a teacher," she says,
"Saxophone was my major but I taught strings all the way through. I
played the piano and taught choral as well."
The Frase didn’t teach Creeggan the saxophone, but she taught him much
more. Creeggan, now the professional musician, says, "There is nothing
more scary than getting up and singing into a mike in front of a bunch of
people. And she gives you the support musically and emotionally. She just
really believed in everybody. By leading by example, by supporting and
encouraging, she gave, not just me, but everybody in the whole music
program, and outside the music program, a real belief in themselves."
"It was a combination of teachers," says Tyler Stewart, the
drummer for the Barenaked Ladies, naming three from his five years in the
early 80s at Huron Heights Secondary School in Newmarket.
"Lockie MacPherson was the guy who taught me the difference between
right wing and left wing and things like that, in politics. He was very
inspirational because he seemed to be doing it all. He really encouraged us
to get involved in extracurricular life in school, which I think is just as
important as the basics," says Stewart, who married a teacher.
MacPherson taught history and politics and advised the student council the
year Stewart was president. "He was very hands-off," remembers the
former president, "and he gently guided the council and he let it be
what it is supposed to be."
A great guy is how Stewart sums up MacPherson. "He was always a
positive influence. He counteracted some of the negativity your average
teenager feels in high school."
Like the other Barenaked Ladies, Stewart took part in school musicals. One
year, the students were doing a revue and Stewart played "this really
nerdy character, a guy with glasses taped together and an icky voice,"
although he was trying for a cool guy reputation in school.
"We did a preview for the students and Mr. MacPherson introduced it and
said ‘What you are going to see are select scenes from this year’s
musical and the first two scenes need no introduction.’ I was in the third
one. He said, ‘The third one, let’s just say this is typecasting.’ He
knew I was so concerned about being cool and he just blew the lid off it. So
when I came out and did this thing, everyone laughed their head off and it
went over very well. It was just his way of showing me, don’t worry about
it, it doesn’t matter. Do what you do."
"Performer is a good way to describe him," says Laughlin
MacPherson of his former student.
Part of the job of student council president was to do the announcements
every other day. "Tyler had my undivided attention whenever he got on
the PA," says MacPherson, "We were never quite sure what he was
going to say, but it was always funny."
MacPherson wasn’t surprised by Stewart’s success. He says, "Being a
pop star is certainly a chancy business, but I certainly was not surprised.
Tyler would be successful at whatever he chose to do." Stewart played
football and baseball, was in innumerable bands, was a lead in the musical
and was a good student. "He was just a very busy guy," says the
recently retired MacPherson, who still teaches occasionally.
Stewart’s second remarkable teacher was Julia Munro. "In history, it
wasn’t just memorizing dates and events; she would suggest interesting
things," says Stewart. "She knew I was involved in school
government and the whole election process and she suggested I might want to
check out the beginnings of the U.S. government and the ideas behind the
constitution, democracy and checks and balances in the U.S. system."
"I found that she really respected the intellect of her students. She
really seemed to have a grasp of each kid’s capabilities and set jobs for
them accordingly." Stewart reports that Munro has gone into provincial
politics — she’s now MPP for York North — "shockingly"
for the Conservative Party.
His third teacher was the "very artsy" one, Glenna Ross, who
taught Dramatic Arts and English. Stewart describes her as "incredibly
smart and politicized."
"You never knew what Mrs. Ross was going to do next." He recounts
one incident: "Rather than having notes on the board when you came in,
she would have a piece of music playing and she would let everyone sit down
and listen to the music or keep talking. She wouldn’t say anything for the
first 10 minutes, and you realized you were supposed to be checking out this
Ross was also encouraging. "She told me once that I was a really good
leader, but I should try to focus my energies toward leading in a positive
direction rather than a negative direction." Stewart admits to being
the class clown-type dude.
Ross gave her students books. Stewart received a book by Bertrand Russell
and another called Notes to Myself by Hugh Prather. "She turned me on
to philosophy and different ways of looking at things," Stewart says.
He recalls that the wilder the improvisation you did in Dramatic Arts class,
the more Ross came to life. "It was nice to have such an alternative
type of person in the relatively straight walls of Huron Heights Secondary
Stewart remembers a quote from a pamphlet Ross handed out about why one
should study the humanities: "It takes a scientist to build a nuclear
bomb, but it takes a human being to know how to use it."
"That always stuck with me," he says. "Education should be
about broadening an individual, it should be about a whole multitude of
experiences and she really turned me on to that idea."
Stewart concludes, "If it wasn’t for the arts and my interest in the
humanities, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now. I’d credit
Glenna with making it cool and interesting to study the arts."
Stewart’s remarkable teacher Lockie MacPherson concludes: "He was
just one of those kids. You could see he was going to be special."