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A lifetime of music

The Western Conservatory of Music celebrates 35 seasons of teaching.
Richard Haack and Marla Mayson are the Western Conservatory of Music’s two longest standing instructors. Haack founded the school in 1981, and Mayson joined in 1992.

After operating a music school for 35 years, Richard Haack has accumulated a colossal collection of music.

Hundreds of records, CDs, books and an entire room full of sheet music — some more than 200 years old — have been purchased or left behind by former students over the years.

Those aren’t the only things Haack has stored away at the Western Conservatory of Music.

Since opening in Brookswood in 1981, he has decades of memories teaching people his passion: music.

As the founder and principal of the school, now located on Glover Road near Duncan Way, Haack has worked with an array of students, from those pushing piano keys for the first time to music teachers in piano pedagogy themselves.

He has even learned to read brail and teaches students who are blind or have dissabilities.

“I have seen many of my students go on to post secondary education, I’ve had students that receive top marks in their Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) exams or do well at festivals and win scholarships,” Haack said.

“But one thing that really gives me great pleasure, I teach teachers. And two of my piano pedagogy graduates now work for me, and that means a lot to me.”

Offering lessons in piano, organ, clarinet, saxaphone, guitar, voice, music theory, music therapy, and everything else in between, the Western Conservatory of Music has had hundreds of students walk through their doors, many earning dozens of accolades.

Haack’s staff of 14 have also come to the school with impressive musical backgrounds, and few ever choose to leave.

Marla Mayson has been at the Western Conservatory of Music since 1992.

A senior voice instructor and 19-year veteran of the Vancouver Chamber Choir, she believes that music education is more important now than ever before.

Today, kids are brought up using computers where “click, and it’s instantly available,” Mayson said.

Music is “the finger in the dyke” that slows things down.

“It’s not fast like the internet, but what you learn and what you take away from it is that sense of accomplishment that parents desperately want for their children,” she said.

“It reminds people what it’s like to study, what it’s like to practise, what it’s like to learn how to work on something and improve something, and understand the satisfaction that comes from that.

“Because the satisfaction that comes from that is completely different from ‘click, oh there it is.’ That provides virtually nothing but convenience.”

Mayson, too, has taught students with a variety of goals, from high school kids looking to improve their choir solos to adults wanting to win cruise ship karaoke competitions.

For her, it’s important to expose students to music beyond pop hits that are played on the radio.

“We want to encourage the learning of classical repertoire and anything of quality, because it asks different things of the techniques,” she said.

“It asks different things of the muscles and how you hold things, how you build things, how you articulate the phrasing —  they’re all different.”

That’s not to say that classical music is the only genre allowed. Every month the school features “pop week,” and Mayson herself will teach musical theatre, jazz and even songs from the Disney movie, Frozen.

“The great thing about that is they start to understand pop and jazz repertoire and they learn how to distinguish better pop repertoire from not so great repertoire,” she said.

“A lot of them [pop songs] are just so static, and the only reason they have any interest is because of the band effects or the percussion or other things. But when you tear it down to a vocal score, there’s not much there. And they realize right away, they learn about melodies that have a shape and have more interest.”

Part of this education includes field trips to symphonies and ballets to hear live renditions of Mozart or Bach.

“I think it’s so important that students are exposed,” Haack said.

“There’s room for all styles, but students don’t get exposed to enough serious music. Nothing compares to a live performance.”

Haack also believes that one of the most important skills his students can learn is sight reading.

“I want my students to have self skills for the rest of their lives, where they are able to sit down, open a book and play,” he said.

This is a skill that comes full circle, Mayson added.

“What does it really accomplish? You get to sit down and play it instantly — click.”


The Western Conservatory of Music still has spots available for September.

Drop-in to the school at 5761 Glover Rd. to find out more, or visit their website


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