"I started music very young. I am the youngest of four and all of my siblings played different musical instruments growing up. When I was about 2, the violin teacher that my sister was seeing put a violin in my hands for the first time. I learned by the Suzuki method which is when you learn to play more advanced music pieces through being shown and by ear. Apparently, at age 5 I demanded to switch over to piano because I hated the violin. My mom indulged me and I switched to piano.
When I was about 20, I had a crisis of sorts. I had just finished two years of a performance degree, and I suddenly thought, what am I going to do with this degree? I wondered if music, because it had been such a central thing in my life, was actually holding me back from other things. I stopped and took a year off, I got married, and tried some different things — I even worked in an accounting office.
After some time away to think, I decided to switch into the education program, and I swore that I would never play another note on the piano again or even teach music. Then I got pregnant with my daughter Halle. I was very emotional during my pregnancy and I remember being about 7 months pregnant and in an HMV store, listening to my dad’s favourite violin concerto as I considered buying it for him for Christmas. I started sobbing and realized in that moment how much I missed music and how much I loved having it in my life. I realized that I needed it back. The very next day, a lady that taught violin in Victoria asked me if I would accompany her students in their exams and that's what restarted my career in music. I started teaching again and only a few years later I began working at Shawnigan.
I’ve now been working at Shawnigan for 17 years. I started teaching after school music, voice and theory lessons and within a year I was doing the musical, chapel, and all kinds of music things because I could see how special it was here and I wanted to be involved in everything. When my own kids started attending school that was when I made my way into curricular teaching.
Several years ago, on Founder’s Day, I took Board Member and Shawnigan alumnus Carl Bradley for a tour of the music building. He asked what we could bring to Shawnigan that would be unique and different. I suggested recording facilities. Next thing I knew, Shawnigan’s own recording studio was being designed, planned and built! At the start of the year, with the new recording studio in place, I asked the kids in my class how they felt about recording their very own songs and walking away with an album at the end. They were so excited! That first year, the program started with just a few kids, and then it just grew and grew. The recording studio helped create the Vocal Arts program we have today.
Music in Chapel is also very unique to Shawnigan. I think a lot of people look forward to the music presentations every Saturday. I have heard a lot of times that it is many people's favorite time of the week, seeing who's getting up there to perform in front of the school. I feel like the response from the audience is so supportive and positive that the performer nearly always walks away from their performance feeling really confident and ready to do it again.
The Christmas Candlelight chapels have always stood out to me as well. I could look back and tell you about many specific performances that have taken place on that night over the years. It’s always a magical experience for me as an individual and as a musician because I just love what we do in that service.
What keeps me at Shawnigan? The students, the community, the energy, the passion. Knowing that I am here with like-minded people who are all here because they really believe in this place, people who are all in and who want to be part of something bigger than themselves. That’s really what makes this such a lovely place to work.
I love to work with young people and here at Shawnigan you get to do it on a different level. You get to see them outside of class time and be involved in their lives. You get to also be a surrogate parent or aunt or therapist, or whatever is needed. I was also the Assistant House Director in Groves’ for a couple of years. I like that versatility.
I hope every student that I talk to and interact with each day feels a little bit better about themselves through that interaction. My goal is always to be kind and uplifting. I always tell the kids that I am here to be their cheerleader because often it is the kids’ confidence that's holding them back. I am here to tell them that they are capable of doing anything they put their mind too, and not just in music. I hope that everyone who has an interaction with me would say that it was a positive one, and that I helped them in some small way.
There are so many kids who come to me who have been told that they aren’t musical, or that they shouldn’t play an instrument, or that they can’t sing. That is so against the philosophy of my teaching. My goal is to uplift, uplift, uplift, uplift at all times so that my students build the confidence to try new things."
- Ms. Shannon Tyrrell (Director of Music)