About

I have a framed copy of my birth certificate hanging in my bedroom. It has my tiny footprints, the name of the hospital, and the attending doctor. Most significant, however, is my date of birth: February 19, 1931. Is this possible? Surely they’ve made a mistake. Well, no, it’s all too true. But like many people my age, I am not feeling old, feeble, or even tired. Maybe eighty is the new fifty! It sure feels like it!

I can’t deny that I’ve done many different things in my life. In other words, I never really decided what I was going to do when I grew up. Every once in while, I start thinking about starting a new career in something or other, and then I think, whoa! Take it easy there, boy, you’ve got too many other things to do.

So here are some of the things I am doing: I’m very excited about being president of the board of Saint James Music Academy. We give free lessons in classical music to kids, mainly from the downtown east side in Vancouver. If you know about El Sistema in Venezuela, it’s like that. I’ve always said that art (music in this case) makes us better people. And it’s true!

I was a director of the Grandview Woodland Area Council from 2009 and then I was president 2011-2013. GWAC is a local (Vancouver east side) group that lobbies for community issues like zoning, development, housing, transit and traffic issues, anything affecting the community.

I worked part time at the Vancouver Crisis Centre for ten years. I was engaged in volunteer support and other issues involving the operations of this organization. The full title: Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of British Columbia says it all.

I also have a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology and lots of training and experience in personal psychological development and change. As a Registered Clinical Counsellor,  I carried on a small private practice, but gave that up a couple of years ago.

Currently, as Special Events Manager, I create and host concert events for City Opera Vancouver. We are usually presenting three or four events through the year.

My main occupation for the last couple of years is lecturing on opera at Simon Fraser University Continuing Education. The courses I give are six weeks long, with one two-hour lecture per week. I have given courses on Twentieth Century Opera, British Opera, Gilbert and Sullivan, Singers of the Acoustic Recording Era, Seldom Performed Masterworks, to name a few.

I continue to be active in community affairs.

If you follow this blog at all, you’ll find out a lot about my other interests and activities. I am a passionate proponent of all the arts. For this I thank my parents and my paternal grandfather, who introduced me to opera at an early age.

In my early university years at Reed College (in Portland, Oregon, where I grew up) I studied music history and played the harpsichord. I changed majors several times, especially after I rejoined my parents in Santa Barbara, California. I majored in Theatre Arts for awhile, then English Literature, and finally graduated with a BA in Music History (1956) from the University of California Santa Barbara College.

To cut to the chase: I was also married (in 1956) to Gretel Bear. We moved to Los Angeles so I could attend graduate school at the University of Southern California (music history). She worked as a medical receptionist and I had a teaching assistantship. Before long, though. our first child was on his way, and this necessitated a change in how we made our living. I took a summer course in teaching and got a job teaching grade 8 math and art in Santa Paula, California.

This is a long story which I won’t tell here, but after three years (I was already deeply questioning the whole idea of school), we picked up and moved to British Columbia (1960) following an insane dream of mine to live in the country by subsistence farming. Well, that never happened, but I did teach elementary school in BC for the next seven years, becoming increasingly convinced that school had nothing to do with education and was at best designed to keep people ignorant and under control.

By now, we had two more wonderful children. There was Miles (born in 1957); Emily, 1960; and Michael, 1962. All three are now highly successful and self-motivated grownups. I even have six grandchildren!

The marriage ended in divorce in 1970, and dear Gretel passed away from lung cancer several years later.

If you’re not bored yet, here’s a brief summary of what I did after 1970. Sorry, actually after 1967: I was offered the job of headmaster at The New School, an “alternative” school in Vancouver, started by a number of very sincere UBC profs for their kids. Summerhill was all the rage in those days, and I preached the gospel with great enthusiasm and, dare I say, panache. They loved me until they found out what their kids were actually doing when the rules and constraints were removed. In short, they went wild–enough said. (A.S. Neill is very clear on this process in his books.) After a few months, the school was divided between the pro-Tom and the anti-Tom groups. The pro-Tommers bowed out gracefully and in the fall of 1968 opened the Saturna Island Free School. There followed a wild and wonderful three years which confirmed my thinking about learning, about kids, and about education. There will be a lot of this on this blog as time passes.

In 1971, I moved back to Vancouver, trying a bunch of different ways to make a living: writing, substitute teaching, vocal coaching, and even piano tuning. In 1972, I became involved with Vancouver Opera, and along with Micki Partridge and a few others, started the Opera-in-the-Schools program. (Still running.) I wrote the program, did translations, and acted as narrator in our school presentations. We did as many as 300 school performances each season for eight years!

In 1981, I decided to go back to university to work on a Master’s Degree in Opera Direction and Production. For various personal reasons (basically, I was a mess) I didn’t finish it. I started training as a therapist in Transactional Analysis, managed that for a few years, and carried on a small practice.

In 1984, I dropped everything and moved to Hornby Island, supposedly to spend a few months to collect my thoughts and figure out what to do. Eleven years later …

During the first few months there, I got involved in the local performing arts scene, formed an amateur theatre company, directed dozens of plays, and developed the Hornby Festival of which I was General Manager and Artistic Director.

It was, I suppose, a bit like The New School; my ideas and ideals were pushing people farther than they wanted to go. Again, it’s a long story, too long for here, but in 1996 I moved back to Vancouver and soon got the job of General Manager of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra. I pretty well hung on to this for the next eleven years and finally “retired” in August of 2007.

Feeling now like I really ought to finish some of the things I had started, I completed a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology through Prescott College in Arizona. This was a fabulous experience–in an institution that fit with my idea of how education should work. I did a lot of travelling (I had to go there for colloquia several times) and spent every penny that I had. That all took place during a year or so hiatus I had from the PBO, ending in 2001.

Then, after finally exiting from managing the baroque orchestra–and fine group of musicians it was and still is–I went back to the University of British Columbia and finished that Master’s Degree in Opera Direction and Production. That was 2007-2008, and I had a wonderful time. Maybe you really have to be in your 70s to appreciate university.

I think I mentioned some of the things I’m doing these days, so I won’t go on any longer. As I said before, if you follow this blog, there will be more.

Cheers,
Tom

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8 Responses to About

  1. Tom, I know we’re friends, so perhaps my comment “doesnt’ count” but I have to say, I’ve read a lot of bios online and this one is the best one I’ve read. The fact that you aren’t 20 or 30 years old helps because it means you’ve actually lived.

    It all reminds me of Elaine Stritch in her late 70s singing “I’m Still Here” in her one person show. She mentions how people in the 30s sing that song and some in the 40s sing that song and some in their 50s sing that song to which she says “where have they been?”

  2. Jessica Wadsworth says:

    Just listened to you on the webcast from City Hall! Brilliant Tom!

  3. lorrie mcfarland says:

    Tom, as a student at the New School I apologize for lighting and throwing the jars of rubber cement out of the classroom windows …we were a royal pain! P.S. I turned out fine

    • Tom Durrie says:

      Hi Lorrie,
      I thought the name sounded familiar. I’m very glad to hear from you, and no need to apologize, it was a great and rare experience for all of us. And, as far as I know, we all turned out well. Was it because of or in spite of?
      Cheers,
      Tom

  4. Marilynne Wong Jackson says:

    Hi Tom, i came across your name on a recent visit to Vancouver googled your name. I attended the new school during the 60’s and you and Gretel were the biggest influence on my schooling years in high school and university. I think I attends illegally, I’m sure my parents didn’t pay. Thanks Tom.

  5. Tom Durrie, also as a previous student of the New School I should say that the place was chaotic and loveable – although terrifying at times to a shy child. I too arguably turned out well.
    Nice to see you here and good to see the bits on school. I was searching for info on that and found you. Hope all is most well.

    Beth (as was Joan) Carruthers

  6. ehandbee says:

    Hello Tom, I’m living at Breezy Bay right now- thumbing through the books that I imagine you- and the students once read. What a magical place, every day i become more and more intrigued by its history but especially you’re ideals, and what Saturna Free School meant. How i’d love the chance to hear your thoughts and the stories from within the 3 years.
    With great admiration, Adrienne.

  7. ursula gropper says:

    Hello Tom,
    Last weekend, while driving around finding a new place to hike, my friend asked if I was i touch with any of my college friends. I confessed I have forgotten most of them, but not you. So, off to Google and there you are!
    Do you remember the times at Reed College when you wrote a cadenza for a harpsichord concerto by Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf? I believe you even dedicated it to me. Do you remember Wednesday night waltz and polka dances at Reed? Just a couple of memories. If you do,
    maybe we can recall more of them……………it was such a long time ago!
    Ursula (Meyer) Gropper

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