Three decades is a long time. It’s long enough to teach a few generations of the same family, it’s long enough to know that you’ve probably forgotten just as much as you’ve learned.
It’s long enough to build 35 years of musical family, said Ron Rutley, the director of music at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary, before he was honoured with a retirement concert at Surrey’s Bell Performing Arts Centre last Friday evening (June 22).
“Between Richmond, Surrey and Fraser Valley Christian, I’ve been lucky to bring all these kids along, thousands of them,” he said.
Whether it’s running into current and former students at the grocery store or Starbucks, Rutley loves the connection he gets to make with the students especially since music is an elective and no one has to be there, they want to be part of the music.
“They start out in grade eight and you watch their progression up to grade 12, these kids and their parents are just amazed at their transformation and how great they become.”
We do tours with the kids, you get to see this different side of them and they get to see a different side of me. It’s really the biggest family you could imagine actually,” Rutley said.
And while he’s seen his share of students come and go the magnitude of a career spanning three decades isn’t lost on him.
“Thirty-five years goes by in a blink, it’s scary actually,” Rutley laughed.
Having some time to reflect on not only his career but his life’s work, in the hours before his farewell concert, Rutley couldn’t help but think of his dad and the influence music had on his life.
“I’ve always loved all types of music but my passion really is concert and jazz music. I remember my dad playing it as a kid and falling asleep to it,” Rutley said. “It just came natural to me and I just knew it had to be part of my life.
“My dad doing that and taking me to concerts, really had a huge impact on me, and and I’ve just been trying to do that for these kids.”
This might be his swan song as a musical director, but Rutley isn’t ready to dry out his reed and latch up his saxophone case. Not even close.
A performer at heart, and always willing to pick up an instrument and join with the kids, the veteran music teacher said his first love, the alto saxophone, has been something he really wants to get back to.
“There’s never a shortage of kids who play the alto saxophone, so I rarely get to play it, so I’m looking forward to getting back into it and learning as much as I can now,” he said.
Standing in front of a sea of friendly faces at the Bell theatre, his fingers popped along the keys of his saxophone as Rutley and his students played their hearts out. The farewell might mean you won’t see him around the music room at Lord Tweedsmuir, but it’s not the end. This was merely a night for friends, it was a night for family and, in music, Rutley sees those as one in the same.
So too did his daughter Crystal, who followed her fathers path into teaching music.
“My brother and sister and myself all went through the program, but we also have lifelong friendships here,” said Crystal Hermann, one of Rutley’s three children.
“He’s out there selling kids on the program, making sure people are loving music, and to see him putting that effort in for a career of this length is so inspiring to me,” she said.
Music has the ability to move, to evoke emotion, to bring out the best in people, and that’s what Rutley said he loves. But best of all music doesn’t have a best-before date, and neither does Ronald Rutley. He will continue to grow, continue to be part of music and continue to follow the philosophies he has believed in for the past 35 years.
“One band, one sound, music is one big family and there are no bench warmers here,” he said.