When Lisa Cuthill took to stage on Sunday, Feb. 21 at Stettler’s Performing Arts Centre as part of the Stettler Variety Showcase performance series, she acknowledged very graciously her music teacher and mentor Noeline Brockley’s contribution to her music education, and not without reason.
Brockley has been a part of Stettler’s music world since the late 1960s when she moved to the community with her family from Edmonton and has taught Cuthill since she was four.
“Mom began giving private lessons in piano and singing at our home, both to individuals and to the more popular group classes,” said Susan Starling, one of her two daughters, who is collaborating with her father Peter Brockley in writing a biography of Noeline Brockley.
With time, Brockley became an integral part of the many choirs that operated in and around Stettler.
Originally from North Wales, UK, Brockley received her music teacher’s degree from the University of Manchester and taught in a couple of schools in the UK.
After meeting her husband Peter Brockley, they moved to Canada.
“Mum directed a number of choirs, including Nelson United Church Choir, children’s choirs, the Augmenteds and the Dimisheds, the Stettler Men’s Choir and the very popular Stettler Gilbert and Sullivan Choir,” recalls Starling. “Both her and dad also ran the United Church Bar Harbour Choir Camp for a few summers and it was very popular and well attended.”
The Stettler United Church Choir recorded an album during her term as director.
“When mum joined the Gilbert and Sullivan productions, they used to tour the surrounding towns including Red Deer and it was quite a production travelling with sets and costumes, but the big dream of everyone involved was for Stettler to have their very own proper theatre,” said Starling. “I’m proud to say that this came to fruition largely in part due to the choir members’ support and determination, especially with the help of Bob Willis.”
According to Starling, Brockley was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia towards the end of 2014.
“Mum is completely bed ridden now, she is palliative and we care for her at home,” added Starling. “We were very worried in late spring of 2015 that she wouldn’t live till her birthday in August, but she has since rallied and although she continues to deteriorate mentally and physically she is stable at present.”
Starling remembers vividly when Brockley started showing symptoms of dementia.
“It began with a call at 2.30 a.m.,” said Starling. “Mum said that she didn’t know where dad was and she needed help, apparently dad had left her at school in her nightclothes and everyone else had gone home, and if I could come and get her.”
When Starling, who lives next door, reached her, Brockley was up and sitting in a chair waiting for her daughter to take her home, although she was in her own bedroom.
“She was then awake for three days and nights in a row, and for four to six hours straight every night, she was conducting an entire imaginary choir, giving instructions, talking to parents of children in the choir, giving encouragement, scolding unruly children, calling for the bus driver to help get all the children on the bus, or off the bus, asking a child to do a solo,” continued Starling. “It was amazing, scary and crazy, but we had no idea then what might have been wrong with her.”
Now residents of British Columbia, Starling and her father Peter have taken upon themselves to work on Brockley’s biography.
“We started by leveraging social media and have created a Facebook page where people who have been a part of her musical journey – former students, choir members, colleagues and friends can share their memories of her,” added Starling. “Whether it is photographs, newspaper clippings or just anecdotes and memories, we would love to hear from them, and this will all be a part of the book we wish to publish.”
Going by the overwhelming response it has elicited it is easy to see Brockley’s influence on her students and the Stettler community.
“There are so many memories, really – the smell of the music books on the shelving wall, of lunch cooking in the kitchen when I came for lunch hour lessons, playing with the dogs when I was supposed to be listening, the cups of tea being delivered into the room by Susan or Peter and sitting on the edge of the piano, the practice tapes that I would be able to listen to and hear your voice between lessons, all of it,” reminisced Melissa Casey, one of her students. “It wasn’t just music and lessons, when I recall my memories of Stettler and childhood, I think of you.”
Casey is one of the many students whose life was touched by Brockley.
“You are a very special person to me and it’s possible that you may not even know how much impact you’ve had on me, and for that I thank you,” said Casey on the FB account that Starling has set up for the commuity to get in touch.
The Brockleys celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary last Saturday, Feb. 20 and Peter wishes to care for her at home, keeping her comfortable as long as he can.