When Donna Lenz decided it was time to retire from giving music lessons, she planned to quietly “fizzle into the sunset.” But after 33 years of teaching in Elmira, she has several hundred former students who weren’t going to let her go without a party.
Her former students have organized a musical performance set for 7 p.m. on June 25, at Trinity United Church.
Lenz is down to seven students now, four of whom are graduating and heading to university. She teaches both piano and voice, and until the past few years, she was the only voice teacher in Elmira. Now that there are two other teachers in town, she doesn’t feel she’s abandoning her students.
“This is a good year for me to say enough is enough,” Lenz said.
One of those new teachers is Angela Brubacher, a former student who said Lenz was an important part of her musical development.
“She’s a really good combination of being knowledgeable, knowing what she needs out of you, and being a very warm person at the same time,” Brubacher said. “Laughter is a big part of how she approaches her lessons.”
Lenz moved to Elmira from the Maritimes in 1976. Originally from Prince Edward Island, she met her husband Fred at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, where they were both studying music and education.
They taught in Nova Scotia for a year before moving to Ontario. Fred’s job was only a one-year contract and the Nova Scotia curriculum didn’t include strings, which is what he wanted to teach. He was offered a job at EDSS, and Donna figured she’d find something here.
“We didn’t quite think we’d be here for 33 years, but it’s amazing how things develop,” she said.
Donna’s teaching license wasn’t recognized in Ontario, so she worked at Home Hardware and took on a few piano students while upgrading her certification. By the time she had completed those courses, the Lenzes were expecting their first child.
“I decided teaching was great job to do and be an at-home mom,” she said.
She has enjoyed being around young people, and said that’s what she’ll miss most after she retires.
“Our kids are all grown up now, so as soon as you cut those ties you don’t have that daily connection to teenagers, and I’ve really enjoyed my connection with teenagers. Teaching keeps you young.”
Lenz will maintain some contact with young people through the youth choir at Trinity United Church, where she is musical director. Lenz has held the job for about 13 years, but not all at once. She started at Trinity United in 1978 but gave it up nine years later after the birth of their fourth child. She was doing services at both Trinity and West Montrose and directing four choirs, and it was just too much work.
It wasn’t long after she quit that she missed the job terribly, but Trinity had already hired someone to replace her. So Lenz took on the musical director’s job at Gale Presbyterian Church and did that until 2005, when she returned to Trinity.
“I just felt after 18 years they needed a different direction and I needed a new challenge. And the job at Trinity came up again, because the person who had replaced me had left, so I went back to Trinity.”
Lenz has been gradually scaling back on lessons since 2000, when she decided it was time for a job outside the home. She took on a part-time position as coordinator at the Beckett School of Music in Kitchener first two and then three days a week.
Last year she decided the job – with 1,400 students and more than 30 teachers – was too much responsibility. At the same time, the opportunity came up to work for the KW Parents for Community Living.
“I’ve always, always been interested in working with organizations that look after mentally challenged people, mostly because I have a brother who’s mentally challenged,” Lenz said.
Giving up teaching will mean more free time in the afternoons and evenings, some of which Lenz plans to spend in the garden. She also wants to take up golf, and she and her husband plan to do some travelling to visit their children, who are living in Guelph, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
Lenz said she didn’t teach in the hopes that her pupils would become performers. That said, she’s proud that several of her students have gone on to study music at university and college.
“I think that’s always what every music teacher hopes happens, that what they’ve taught to somebody will carry on when they’re done.”