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Kings County music educator Rhodenizer calling it a career after 35 years

Long-time Kings County music educator Donna Rhodenizer retires this month from a 35-year teaching career. Rhodenzer, shown here in her classroom at KCA in Kentville, plans to keep busy writing and arranging music and performing as part of the duo Donna & Andy.
Long-time Kings County music educator Donna Rhodenizer retires this month from a 35-year teaching career. Rhodenzer, shown here in her classroom at KCA in Kentville, plans to keep busy writing and arranging music and performing as part of the duo Donna & Andy. - John DeCoste

‘See ya later’

It’s “see ya later,” but definitely not a full stop for Donna Rhodenizer.

Rhodenizer, a long-time Kings County music educator and an award-winning children’s entertainer in her “spare time,” is wrapping up her teaching career later this month after 35 years.

“The kids say I’m ‘up-and-quitting’,” she jokes. “But the reality is, I’ve gone to one school or another every September since I was five years old.”

And now the time has come to move on.

After finishing high school in New Germany, Rhodenizer, a native of Barss Corner, Lunenburg County, attended Acadia, then Brandon University, where she obtained a master’s degree. She worked as a substitute teacher, then a full-time teacher, and since 2001, has ‘team-taught’. Her current teaching partner is Joanna Simpson; Rhodenizer teaches 60 per cent of the time and Simpson 40 per cent.

“It’s not only made a difference in my teaching, it’s allowed me to become more creative, in and out of the classroom,” she says of team teaching. “I’m thankful the board has allowed me to do my hours in blocks,” which has given her the flexibility to do her touring.

Rhodenizer’s recent teaching has been at Kings County Academy in Kentville, but she is well-known throughout the Valley and beyond for her teaching, musical composition, arranging and performing.

Passion for music

Both music and teaching run in Rhodenizer’s family. Her grandmother was her Grade 3 teacher and role model, while her niece is carrying on the tradition after recently graduating from Acadia’s education program. Rhodenizer’s mother, meanwhile, was a music teacher.

“I tell people I was taking music lessons before I was born,” she kids, but officially, she started piano lessons at age four.

“We had an old farmhouse (when growing up). What was the parlour in most houses was the music room in ours. All kinds of people would gather on Saturday evenings and make music. You got so you could play a variety of instruments.”

She started playing the violin at age 12 – the instrument cost $15.99 at Zellers at the time - and wrote her first song around the same time, a collaboration with her sister on an instrumental piece for two pianos.

“We didn’t have music in our school until I was in Grade 12,” she says, and even then, “it was really elementary, and I had already been studying theory for some time. The teacher told me that to pass music in Grade 12, I would have to compose a piece of music the school choir could sing, in three parts, at graduation.”

She did that and has been both composing and arranging music ever since.

“I’ve written the finales for our Christmas concerts here (at KCA) for years,” she says.

This year was no exception, and it played tribute to her upcoming retirement.

“I wrote a song saying goodbye, called ‘See Ya Later, Alligator’, which we sang at our closing concert.”

Rhodenizer started performing while in high school, as an original member of the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra when it began in 1977. She also served as the concertmaster for three years.

She began performing with Wendy LaPierre and Andy Duinker as children's entertainers DonnaWendyAndy in 1996. For the past 19 years, she and Duinker have performed and toured extensively as the duo Donna & Andy.

“The creative process I’m involved in through performing has made me a better musician, which in turn has made me a better music educator,” she says. “I feel creatively satisfied, part of a wonderful circle of happy creativity.”

And that, she adds, will definitely continue after she is finished teaching.

Coming quickly

Rhodenizer was aware the end of her teaching career was fast-approaching, but she admits, it’s still sinking in for her.

“It wasn’t until I turned the calendar to June that I realized how few days there were left. The hard part has been deciding what do I keep, what might I need, what do I leave for the next person who gets this job?” she says.

She says she’s “done some different things” in her final year of teaching.

“You need to constantly be reaching and stretching and growing,” she says. “Going out and performing in schools, you get some really great ideas that you can then take back and use in your classroom. It’s like on-going professional development.”

And it doesn’t need to stop when you’re no longer in a classroom situation, she adds.

She has always enjoyed singing for children, but she points out, “at Donna & Andy concerts, we’re like rock stars. It’s always been so gratifying to know that something I’ve written can strike such a chord. We make an emotional connection with our audience because of the music.”

In school, she is “not as much of a star,” but she likes it that way.

“They expect me to write music, and I expect them to write music. We’re creative together, and they’re not shy with their opinions,” she said.

“If I can instill in my students a love of music, and they’re then willing to seize the moment and get involved with music outside school, then I’m doing my job as a music teacher.”

What’s next?

Rhodenizer doesn’t expect to have any trouble filling her time after she is done teaching.

“I have songs to write, books to write, performances and workshops to do. I’ve always spent the summers doing other things and taking it up again in September. The difference is, this September, I won’t be taking it up again,” though she does expect to continue doing some substitute teaching.

She and Duinker do plan to keep performing - “maybe even a bit more of it,” she says - and she has lots of other irons in the fire.

“I’ve never been a person who enjoys sitting around and doing nothing. I’ll always be able to find things that interest me, and what has always interested me most is music.”

But, she adds, retirement is bittersweet.

“Part of me doesn’t want to leave, but I am looking forward to not having to be here in September,” she said.

Asked what she will miss most, the answer was easy.

“The kids, definitely, They’re part of my family.”

Did you know?

Donna Rhodenizer has had a wide and varied career, both teaching and composing, arranging and performing music. Among other things, she has been a part-time professor at Acadia, has adjudicated music festivals, done countless music workshops and clinics, created a series of teaching videos, and has compiled eight music books. In 2011, she received the Jubilate Award of Merit from the Canadian Music Educators Association. In 2014, she and Andy Duinker were Artists in Residence at the Canadian International School of Hong Kong. Donna & Andy have been nominated for four East Coast Music Awards, and won the ECMA in 2003 for their recording Computer Cat. In 2005, they won a Nova Scotia Music Award for Dinosaurs, Dragons and Me which also earned them a nomination for a JUNO award.

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