Passing the Baton
Salvationist music teachers strike a chord with students
Photo: Phylicia Rawlins
BY STEVE PAVEY
From left, Steve Pavey, married couple Elizabeth and Greg Colley, brothers Cameron and Brendan Rawlins
n Markham, Ont., a group of teachers has become a unique musical ensemble. Five Salvationists teach in the York Region District School Board, at both the elementary and high-school levels. Elizabeth Colley and I teach at public schools that feed into Pierre Elliot Trudeau High School (PET), where Greg Colley and Cameron Rawlins teach. Cameron’s brother, Brendan Rawlins, also teaches music nearby, at Summitview Public School. For some students, this means having a Salvationist music teacher from a young age until the end of high school—a rare opportunity for us to share our passion for music and our faith. I give careful thought to helping students choose an instrument in Grade 6. It’s amazing to hear from Cameron or Greg that the student has developed a love for that instrument and become the principal player in their section, or wants to continue with music in university.
Elizabeth, who teaches at Castlemore Public School, prepares her students for the high standards of PET through performance. “I try to instill a sense of accomplishment in everything they do,” she says. “It’s exciting when they begin to see themselves as musicians.” Cameron and I sit next to each other in the Canadian Staff Band and often discuss our mutual students. “I like getting ‘scouting reports’ before new students arrive,” Cameron says. “It helps to know where they’re coming from, and influences how I handle certain situations.” But for each of us Salvationists, teaching music is the background accompaniment to living out our faith. “I treat every day as a ministry opportunity,” says Brendan. “God has blessed me with musical talents, and I hope the passion and love that I have for Jesus Christ will show in my passion for music.” It’s about caring for and displaying Christian character to my students.
They know I attend The Salvation Army church and play in an Army band. That comes with a responsibility to be the most encouraging follower of Christ I can be. Greg agrees. “I see my role as a Christian teacher to care for each student I teach, regardless of their faith,” he says. “I try to be authentic, to share my life with my students. I don’t hide my challenges. They hear about my wife, my family, my children, my parents and my ‘other’ band.” Greg is the bandmaster at Yorkminster Citadel in Toronto. Recently, it held an event where several high-school bands, including Greg’s, performed alongside the corps band. Playing Army music, such as Kevin Larsson’s They Shall Come From the East and Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s Fire in the Blood, they heard the message of Christ’s love. Last Christmas, I organized a concert in Richmond Hill, Ont., inviting a number of my present and former students to play with my corps youth band, alongside the Canadian Staff Band. It was fantastic to have our Army and school worlds intersect. Our students were able to listen to and play with the staff band and, along with their families, hear the message of Christmas through Scripture and drama. And for Christian students, we teachers are able to encourage them on their journey of faith. “I challenge them to rely on God, especially as I see them wearing their FROG (Fully Rely on God) bracelets,” Greg says. He has recently included two former students, now studying music at the University of Toronto, in his band and corps fellowship where they are beginning to take soldiership classes. Jacqueline Johnson has had three children go through Franklin Street Public School, where I teach, and PET’s music program. “We expected a public school to be a spiritual wasteland, but through the music programs and the teachers, it is a place where our children can express their faith and grow in every way,” she says. “I am thankful for all that God has done through Mr. Pavey, Mr. Rawlins and Mr. Colley.” In the Christian life, we may never know what part we have played in reaching someone. Some provide the beat, some the melody and some the harmony. As Salvationist teachers, we have the rare gift of instilling music and faith in our students, and watching them flourish. Salvationist • September 2014 • 23