I recently read an article about many people not enjoying the job they go to every day. That is certainly not the case in this month’s Story Behind the Person, regarding Rory Snider-McGrath. Rory, a very familiar face around town, taught and was head of the music department at Port Perry High School for many years.
Music held an interest for Rory from an early age, but it wasn’t until high school he expanded his love for wind instruments.
Rory was born in Terrace Bay, a small community about an hour, this side of Nipigon in Northern Ontario. His dad worked for the railroad and his mom was a teacher. At the young age of three, Rory and his family moved to Barry’s Bay, east of Algonquin Park. His father had left the railroad and took up plumbing, as his mother continued to teach.
Rory, along with his two brothers, attended Madawaska Valley District High School and began learning the tuba. Being born into a hard working family gave Rory the ambition to seek employment while going to school. His first job was at the local Red & White, but he soon moved on to Murray’s Lumber, where he worked the midnight shift.
“We carried 4x6 ties from the yard onto two tractor trailers each night,” Rory explained. “They were headed for Texas, but no one seemed to know what they were used for.” In an effort to earn more money, Rory began working at the Beer Store, where he held a position for five years, during both high school and university.
Music was now a major part of Rory’s life, and he wanted to attend a university that offered a substantial education in wind instruments, especially the tuba. Unfortunately, the only tuba teacher in Southern Ontario looked after five universities, as well as playing in orchestras, which meant there would be little opportunity for the young musician to get the assistance he would require.
His high school teacher had completed a master’s degree at Potsdam University in New York, a major entity that specialized in music and computer science. “When I attended, there were 5,500 students at the college,” Rory said. “And today there are only 3,000. Amazingly, the number of music students per year has not changed.” The school is now venturing into musical theatre.
Rory wanted to be a professional tuba player and had the opportunity to play in the orchestra for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. “It was so cold, that the valves on our instruments were frozen.” It was the last year the Olympics used a live orchestra.
He took on a part time job as a chauffeur to the president of Quaker Oil, who happened to have a cottage in Barry’s Bay. Unfortunately, while driving, Rory’s car was hit from behind and he suffered a terrible injury, which ripped the cartilage from his chest. The result was, he could not play the tuba for 12 months. Instead, he took education courses, as now his focus was turned toward teaching music.
After university, Rory took a position in Bancroft, at Joseph Gould Senior Elementary. After four years, he moved to Brock High School in Cannington. From there, Rory moved to Port Perry and taught in Whitby. One day, he received a call from Charles White, head of the music department at Port Perry High School. He offered Rory a position in the music department, which Rory gratefully accepted.
Rory traded in the tuba for a trumpet, not because he preferred the instrument, but because it was lighter and much easier to carry to class.
By this time, Rory had married Margaret, a music teacher at Prince Albert Public School, and after the retirement of Charles White, Rory took over the head of the music department at Port Perry High. Two of Rory’s four children are pursuing musical interests, whereas the other two are leaning toward athletic careers. Recently, Rory celebrated the birth of his first grandchild, Lilah.
I asked Rory what he loved about teaching music. “I always enjoyed working with the jazz band at the school, but when I had the opportunity to work with the wind ensemble, I had goosebumps every time I listened to them,” Rory said, smiling.
Heading up the music department has offered Rory some great travel opportunities. “Playing in Ottawa and Quebec was great, but travelling to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and England was fantastic,” he explained.
Several years ago I had the pleasure of emceeing one of the Christmas concerts performed by the music department each year. I was amazed at the talent, and also at my first meeting with Rory Snider-McGrath. His hair, at the time, was platinum blonde, a result of a wager to raise money for a worthy cause.
Port Perry is proud to have such a dedicated individual as Rory Snider-McGrath. There are very few students who have attended our high school, and have not been influenced by his dedication, willingness and genuine love of music.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com.
Jonathan van Bilsen
Join Jonathan van Bilsen in the Standard as he begins a series of feature articles on prominent residents of North Durham in his new column, The Story Behind The Person.