Kelsea McLean had worked hard to stand where she was standing, along with the rest of the choir.
Her brother, Brendan stood nearby. Her mother stood in front of them, leading them in song.
Kelsea looked out the windows that ran the length of the wall at the Banff Springs Hotel. The Rocky Mountains loomed outside.
Her dad sat out in the crowd. He had taken a seat in the audience after conducting the band’s performance.
As Kelsea’s choir sang, he wept. The performance was dedicated to Kelsea’s grandfather, who had passed only a few weeks earlier.
She looked to her mom and her brother. She fought back tears as she sang.
The audience rose, clapping. Walking off stage, Kelsea began to cry.
They had been invited to give a feature concert at the Banff Rocky Mountains Music Festival.
“We were sharing our talents and our hard work and it wasn’t to be judged or evaluated. It was just to show the rest of Canada that was attending, this is what we do and this is what we worked hard for.”
Ten years later, this past fall, Kelsea McLean stood in the band room of Morell Regional High School. Twenty Grade 10 students sat in front of her with their instruments at the ready.
They were trying to make it through a song. A trumpet player’s solo was coming up. A few notes in, the player lowered her instrument.
McLean raised her eyebrows, tilting her head to side before lowering her hands.
“I don’t know it yet,” said the student.
“Improv. That is a form of music,” said McLean, urging the girl to try again.
McLean raised her hands and began to conduct. The students made it farther through the song than last time.
McLean started in music at a young age with violin and piano lessons. Her violin career didn’t last long, but her parents were adamant she continue with piano until she graduated from high school.
She took a year off from the choir, and various bands she was in, to go to the University of Saskatchewan. Then McLean transferred schools to become a music therapist at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg.
“I was trying really hard not to do what my parents did. And then I ended up deciding that I needed to do some more music in my life.”
Two years into her music education degree she took part in a drumming circle. Surrounding her were other university students, drums in hand. It was meant to be soothing.
“I don’t even enjoy this. This doesn’t feel genuine,” she thought.
Her professor, Janet Brenneman, pulled her into her office.
“Okay, so here’s what you’re going to do. You need to be in education. You’re meant to be in education. This is meant for you, you’re a natural at it and that’s what you’re going to do.”
“Great,” said McLean.
Brenneman knew from the moment she met McLean she was meant to be a teacher.
She spotted a natural leadership instinct in McLean and knew she was trying to avoid following her parents footsteps. But she would always jump in and was eager to learn, Brenneman said.
“We have to feel that in our chosen path we are being true to ourselves.”
College is a time when everyone is discovering themselves, so it’s a common time for career changes to be made during this time, she said.
“Is Kelsea the only one I’ve advised? No, absolutely not.”
The same happened to Brenneman. She planned on being an elementary school teacher, but a high school teacher told her she should get a music degree.
“It’s just sort of the way it works for many people.”
That advice was what McLean needed. She took Brenneman’s advice and got her education degree at the University of Saskatchewan.
She moved to P.E.I., then began subbing as a high school science teacher. She had been to Morell Regional a few times when the principal, John Crawford, approached her.
“Hey, I hear you’re a music specialist. Would you ever consider coming in?”
“Yes, I need a job, that would be great.”
The previous teacher was taking a leave of absence and the school needed a new band teacher.
The Grade 11 students are the first class McLean has taught since Grade 6.
Last year, with students that were completely hers, she was able to use her own teaching style. She had captured their attention.
Still, she finds it impossible to be confident with anything as a teacher.
Days earlier she had called her brother.
“I don’t know what to do in this class. I feel like I’m a failure,” she told him.
Brendan reassured her.
“This is good. When teachers have that moment, it’s a moment of well, I’m really bad at this so now, I can reflect on how to be better.”
The siblings have the same job. Brendan is a band teacher in Saskatchewan.