Andreas Gutmanis was one of the people who most influenced my love of music. He had a wonderful ability to share his passion by his firm but patient teaching style, and had a classroom decorated with all manner of musical posters. The first time I met him was in Grade Four; I was new to the school and hadn't had any classroom music instruction apart from singing along to tunes from popular Disney films at the time.
One day early in the term I passed him in the hallway and greeted him shyly, but I mispronounced his name - I think I called him Mr. McGinnis or something like that - and he corrected me in a kind voice with a big smile. From that moment I knew he was special, because very few of my school teachers thus far had been nice to me or the students in general.
Born in Latvia, Mr. Gutmanis spent his adolescence in Argentina before coming to Canada in 1957. He studied at McGill University in Montreal and Potsdam State College in New York before returning to Montreal to become a music teacher at both the grade school and high school levels. He became well known in the arts community as being a director of small instrumental ensembles, as well as founding the Lakeshore Chamber Orchestra.
He also taught private piano and violin lessons, and many of my classmates studied with him. At the time I had piano lessons with another instructor whom I hated and I wanted to switch, but for some reason I don't recall, my mother insisted that I stick with it. (By the time I finished Grade Seven I'd reached the limit of my patience and quit.)
Some of my favourite memories were of being in the grade school choir and putting on concerts. One year Mr. Gutmanis took the choir to an inter-school competition, but although we didn't win it was still a lot of fun. In class he taught music theory using the Orff Method, as well as recorder and ukelele (I still have my recorder). He frequently had his students sit in the classroom and listen to music: everything from Mozart to modern electronica. It came as no surprise to me that some of those same students ended up becoming musicians and/or music teachers themselves.
The last time I saw him was in 1992 at the wake for a dear family friend who had died of cancer; he played on his violin several times during the service. I was in university by then, finishing a Fine Arts degree in Music. He congratulated me on my educational choice and seemed proud to hear that I was following his footsteps.
After that I lost touch with him, although I heard from mutual friends that he was decreasing his workload in order to care for his ailing wife. His grade school music teaching post was filled by another former student of his and classmate of mine. Then in the fall of 2002 I heard news that he was involved in a bicycle accident. The injury itself was not fatal, but Mr. Gutmanis was a haemopheliac, and he died later the same day in the hospital. It was a loss felt by many.
He is fondly remembered by hundreds of people who worked with or studied with him. One of the high schools where he worked now offers an award in his name for outstanding achievement in music.