For some musicians, the passion behind the music is diminished through being a teacher. For Gordon Moorlag, though, the experience only deepened it.
Moorlag, who came west from Ontario during the booming years of the early 1980s, had never intended to be a teacher, a marching band instructor, or a community choir leader – all roles he has filled during his time in Stettler.
Now retired, Moorlag conducts the Cantus Choir – and said he will continue to do so “as long as people come to sing.” The choice of music is endless, and even when performing songs the choir has sung before, there are always different arrangements, and different ways to interpret them.
“As a conductor, you have leeway to interpret (the composer’s) instructions,” Moorlag said.
From the young age of eight years old, Moorlag said he knew he wanted music, and what he wanted from music was to be a singer.
“I was good at it,” he said. “It spurred me on to keep singing.”
Every Saturday for almost a decade, his mother would drive him from the small southern Ontario town of Keswick to the neighbouring community of Aurora so he could take vocal lessons from his teacher, an “outstanding British vocal teacher.” He did that until his voice broke; once his voice settled, he auditioned for the University of Windsor. Earning a place there, he spent four years studying music.
Part of his education included learning the different instruments found in school, and basic teaching techniques. He would “teach” his fellow students and draw them out of their shells, as they, in turn, would do the same for him.
It was during this experience that one of his professors came to him and said he should teach.
“‘No,’ I said,” Moorlag recalled. “‘I want to sing.'”
His professor told him that he truly had a talent for teaching, a talent that was stronger than his singing talent.
“She had watched me do these classes in university with my fellow students,” Moorlag recalled. “She realized – I’m a good teacher and should do that.”
The suggestion never left Moorlag’s mind, and after he graduated, instead of trying to make his way as a singer, he went into the university’s teaching program.
“I don’t regret it,” he said. “I was guided by my teachers towards this, towards conducting.”
Even though it’s been more than 35 years since he came to Stettler, he was never really tempted to go back east, having found his place here.
Even though he now conducts choral music with the Cantus Choir, Moorlag has conducted instrumental music and a combination of both. He also directed the very successful Waverly Bandoliers during the early 1980s, before he left Waverly School to work in Stettler’s public schools.
“I directed the marching band when I first got into town, the Waverly Bandoliers,” he said. “A wonderful musician by the name of Bill Simon was the creator. They had wonderful support from the community, the country community because it was the county school.”
The Bandoliers experienced success, including a major competition in Saskatchewan.
“We went to Saskatchewan, where we came in first,” he said of the marching band. They came back with the prize to be greeted on Main Street by thousands of Stettler and area residents.
It was heady stuff, Moorlag said. It’s something that only made him more passionate about music.
“I miss the kids’ enthusiasm, the camaraderie, the students,” he said. “Absolutely.”
During the three years he led the Bandoliers, they performed at the Stettler train, during the opening of the Byemoor School, in various competitions.
“We played in lots of places around the county,” he said.
After leaving Waverly School and the Bandoliers, he focused on the choir.
Though now known as the Cantus Choir, the choir originally was made of high school teachers, Moorlag said. Over the years, the focus of the choir changed, as did its membership, though some have remained constant.
“Some of these people have been with me for 20 years,” Moorlag reminisced.
Moorlag, who retired in 2012, is now in his mid-60s. For him, though, music remains a key element of his life. The musical interludes of his life are captured in multiple scrapbooks – newspaper articles, performance programs, photographs, cards from students and more.
“I still have my passion, I still have my hearing, which is important,” he said. “I’ll keep conducting until I can’t.”