How to fully describe a wizard? Both in appearance and in action, that was what Dr. Carruthers was to me. Meeting Dr. Carruthers opened up an entirely new realm of possibilities for me; simply put, I may not have had a career in music if not for him. He saw me, and many others in our infancy as artists; and with the wisdom of a seer saw us for who we could grow to be. He chose to invest in me with generous scholarships and time, and I began to thrive, grow and blossom in an environment of support and positive expectation. Music school is where I began to come alive, and where I discovered that I could be seen and heard if I chose to be. Dr. Carruthers was one of the first people in my 17 years of life that I truly felt seen and respected by. That in itself was a tremendous gift that I have never forgotten. He had a profound reverence for his fellow humans that continues to inspire me, and a curiosity about and devotion to his musical craft that always intrigued me. I never heard him speak ill of other students or staff, and he approached each challenge or source of resistance with respect and a healthy dose of lightness, philosophy and humour. I would often stop by his office to say hello as his door was always open, and catch him up on my various successes, struggles and student-y musings. He always made it a point to wander the halls on Fridays with the intention of connecting with students, the importance of which has not been lost on me as I myself began teaching in post secondary. He was genuinely interested in, curious about, and devoted to us as students, and this was something we could all sense tangibly as we went to class, interacted with one another, and struggled with the complications of being a human, a student, and a burgeoning artist all at once. Together with his remarkable wife Heather, they welcomed students into their lives and experiences – their beautiful home of collectibles and curiosities was to witness many a raucous post-exam gathering, of which they exuberantly hosted and took part.
It was Dr. Carruthers who insisted on and made my acceptance to Brandon University a reality. It was necessary for me to drop out of my rural Saskatchewan school and I didn’t have a highschool diploma anywhere on the horizon – I was raw in my musical skill but determined – struggling but proud; and my quietness in person disguised the searing emotions within that were only revealed when I played violin. He laid the groundwork for me to be accepted conditionally – the requirements were rigid and required a 3.8 GPA in order to remain a student without a proper diploma, and I was to be required to write the GED exams once I turned 19 – he was convinced that I was up for the challenge. In fact I was more than up for the challenge, I thrived on it. The fact that someone else thought I could do it was all the more fuel to my motivation to overcome and succeed. I was familiar with what it took to overcome obstacles and setbacks of all kinds in my personal life, and he seemed to know that I had what it took to propel my way through a university degree at the age of 17. It was his belief in me that enabled me to start believing in myself. He saw in me things that no one else had, and by his own example, showed me how to perceive myself in a respectful and understanding way. Throughout my four years at Brandon, he was a constant presence and encouragement to me, and even though I was only in contact with him sporadically after I finished my degree, his influence followed me well beyond graduation. I contacted him the day I was offered a high-profile conducting job. The position happened to be in the city he was now posted in as Dean, and I was in town for the audition/interview process. I called to make an appointment, and he generously cleared his schedule to meet with me. Having taken a position at a larger university, his office was a larger version of the tasteful one at Brandon that I had remembered, but he remained unchanged in appearance and manner, and we talked for an entire hour about life, career path, and possibilities. I asked his advice on the position that I had been offered but was yet to accept, and together we discussed the pros/cons and what a future could look like, both within the position and pursuing my own path as I had been. I was early on in my conducting career, having pivoted my professional career from working as a violinist full time, still feeling my way along and struggling with the newness of the demands on me both personally and professionally. As always, he was affirming and listening to me fully, completely. I have often thought of his gift for listening to people, and how calming, healing, and nourishing it feels to be be fully heard. At the end of our meeting, he told me, “there are no wrong choices, and whether you take this position or not, you will be successful!” It turned out the job was not the right fit for me and I declined the offer, but I often thought about that conversation in the months that followed.
His belief in students’ abilities and ideas created a culture in the School of Music of innovation and independent creation and thinking, and he enthusiastically supported my extra projects both in and outside of school. This was probably one of the most empowering and beneficial lessons to have been imparted during my time at Brandon, and one that served me well in the many years to come of freelancing, creating, and founding my own ensembles, concert series and orchestras. He gave me confidence to create independently and authentically, and allowed me to hone the skills of musical entrepreneurship and individuality within the protected confines of school.
There are few people who could execute the job of Dean in a burgeoning School of Music with as much grace and care, and the ripple effects of his contribution to the post secondary music world will be felt throughout the future generations of musicians, educators, professors and artists that benefitted from his benevolent leadership.
It is truly impossible to express the impact and lasting resonance of a job well done and a life well lived, but I endeavour to do so in a small capacity in this post.
Dedicated to the memory of Dean Glen Carruthers who passed away on December 24th, 2020.