The 2018 season of Wednesdays on the Wharf kicked off with a special concert, signalling the end of the 30-year career of Salmon Arm’s much-loved music teacher Brian Pratt-Johnson. As is tradition, Pratt-Johnson opened the season of the outdoor concert series by conducting a performance with the Salmon Arm Secondary jazz band, leading them in one final show before he hung up his teaching hat.
Beginning his love of music at eight years old when his family decided to take up instruments after his father broke his leg skiing, Pratt-Johnson quickly discovered music was something he couldn’t get enough of. After pursuing an education in music and spending some time as a touring musician it was suggested to him that teaching music might be a more effective way to pay the bills.
He says “I started teaching drums and I knew this guy who was a full-time music teacher and he said ‘you have a degree in music, one more year at UBC and you could be me!’”
After being hired to teach music at a secondary school in Coquitlam another change came upon the Pratt-Johnson family that would be the catalyst which saw them eventually move to Salmon Arm.
“Another silly thing I did was I decided to start a family,” he begins with a chuckle. “A week into my first teaching job we had a baby! I had a headache my whole first year teaching, I was thrashed, just unbelievable. But anyways, we survived that, that’s why you have your children when you are young!”
With that, Pratt-Johnson sent his resumé out to ten jobs and the family embarked on a camping trip around B.C. to find somewhere to settle that had a pleasant community, a vibrant arts scene and, perhaps most importantly, stellar slopes for skiing.
Soon afterwards he got the call to interview for a position teaching music in Salmon Arm, marking the beginning of a 30-year tenure that saw him inspiring students to pursue music and making a lasting impact on many of those he taught.
One of those students was Mike Zobac, a touring musician turned software engineer who was one of the driving forces behind organizing the special send-off concert for his high-school music teacher. As seems to be a running theme when talking to Pratt-Johnson’s former students, Zobac was struck with how engaged the teacher was with his lessons.
“He was just super enthusiastic and very supportive on a personal level,” Zobac begins. “I was never enthusiastic about anything in school but Brian was super encouraging and supportive and just really made me focus on something and get excited about it.”
Another of Pratt-Johnson’s former students, Samantha Laird, who was also a part of the send-off concert, has similar memories.
“I remember eating lunch in the band room every day, and Brian would put on an LP from the 70’s and explain it to us. We really would spend a lot of extra time with him,” she says. “He is full of energy all the time, he said to me that was the only way he knew how to do it. We all benefited from that, as much as it might have drained him, as much as he he might have liked to have a moment alone. He knew everything about music, so we just followed him around.”
She also adds that his positivity helped in classes outside of the band room.
“I felt it makes you be more responsible to your other subjects like physics and english if you have something else that makes you want to be at school,” Laird says.
The send-off concert for Pratt-Johnson featured performances from the Salmon Arm Secondary jazz band, as well as an ensemble of former students from across his teaching career that played a special set for their former instructor.
“It was just really amazing to see them, how they have matured,” Pratt-Johnson says. “I wish everyone could have an experience like this.
“They did an amazing job, to get a whole bunch of musicians together from all over the region. They did some amazing charts, and they were all my favorite bands! The Beatles, Tower of Power, Chicago, Stevie Wonder… it would have taken a hell of a lot of work. It was just so fun and I got to be in on the rehearsals and just hang with these people, we would go outside and chat, it was just really amazing.”
For his students, the effort was well worth the chance to show their appreciation for the impact Pratt-Johnson made on their lives.
“I think really there are just a huge amount of people who wouldn’t be who they are today if it wasn’t for him,” Zobac says.
“Brian pointed us in the right direction,” Laird adds. “It’s a part of who we are, I would say.”
As to what the future holds after retirement, Pratt-Johnson says he will be staying as an on-call teacher for a year just to ease the transition, but otherwise is looking forward to travelling, relaxing and getting in some serious time on the slopes.
“What I’m hoping to do now is some more playing, and I am really looking forward to skiing,” he begins. “Like on a Tuesday when there is 10cm of fresh snow and nobody is up there… that’s going to be me.”