Hidden talent among Laurier Brantford profs

Contrary to what you might think, your professor is not some drone whose only interest in life is to teach, or whose only conflict is to try to get you to peel your eyes away from your laptop. Professors are as multi-dimensional as any other human being, and in addition to a clear knack for teaching, they are also people who know the lure of the arts.

In fact, some of the professors on campus are singers, former rock stars, playwrights, saxophone players, and in one case, a former rapper.

Dr. David Haskell is a professor and the Journalism program chair/coordinator at Laurier Brantford. Long before his tenure as a professor, Haskell was the lead vocalist and harmonicist of the band, Myth of Innocence (the name was loosely based on a book of poetry by William Blake). Formed in 1991, the band consisted of Haskell and three of his friends.

“I was employed as a high school teacher back in 1991,” he recalled. “And we all quit our full-time jobs to be rock stars.”

The band found moderate success together, playing a number of shows throughout Ontario and Quebec. For Haskell, the best gigs were at university or college venues since those “paid better and always provided food.”

Making only enough money to cover the cost of equipment and gas, Myth of Innocence still managed to establish a strong local following. In 1993, the group placed second at the Skydome Hard Rock Café Battle of the Bands in Toronto, and following this success, released a five-song demo in 1994.

In a landmark year for the Myth of Innocence members, the band played on City TV’s popular shows, “Breakfast TV” and “Lunch TV.” They were also one of 12 bands tapped to make an appearance on a compilation CD put together by Hamilton radio station, Y95. Also in 1995, Haskell and the band opened up for such popular acts as the Headstones, Alannah Myles, and Moxy Fruvous.

Interestingly, Myth of Innocence also played some of the same venues as Bone Decent, a band which included another Laurier Brantford professor, Dr. Rob Kristofferson.
“We were minimally successful,” said Haskell. “We weren’t unsuccessful enough to stop.”
The group continued on and released their first full-length CD, entitled FALL. As was the case with their first record, all the songs were written by the group and included the Laurier Brantford campus favourite, “Treehouse.”According to Haskell, a number of the tracks were “quite scholarly” and inspired by various works of literature.

Myth of Innocence disbanded in 1998 and despite admitting that he only sings to his children these days, Haskell expressed the hope that a reunion might happen one day.

“I miss it. We were goofy and we had fun,” he said. “And I still have my flannel in my closet.”
Professor Chad Hillier also knows a thing or two about being in a 1990’s music group. The Contemporary Studies professor was once in a rap group, but out of respect for his fellow group members (one is a professor at Nipissing), Hillier did not disclose the group’s name.
“It might be embarrassing for them,” he explained.

Hillier and his group formed in the fall of 1993, but half the members were replaced within a year.

“We went into the studio once to produce some new songs and even had plans to release a demo, but those never materialized,” said Hillier, who also tried his hand at managing and promoting the band while “booking a few small gigs around Southern Ontario” with a couple other college bands from Peterborough.

This led to a particularly dreadful incident in Gravenhurst where, “like five people showed up after a three hour drive in a snowstorm.”

The mysterious rap group separated in the spring of 1996 to pursue other career interests.
It may be the polar opposite of rap but ever since she was a little girl, Maija Saari has been singing in choirs.

After a period of not singing, the Journalism professor started up again in the 1990’s, singing for the Blyth Festival Singers, a community-based professional theatre that produces and develops plays. Following her stint there, Saari joined the Chorus Niagara in 2002.

The Chorus Niagara is a formal choir headed by conductor, Robert Cooper, who has an Order of Canada honour for choir conducting and his extensive contribution to choral singing in Canada.
For Saari, singing as part of Cooper’s troupe was worth any obstacles she encountered.
“It was a bit tricky juggling [the choir] with new parenthood and my job here at Laurier,” said Saari, who would have to drive every Monday night from Hamilton to St. Catherines for rehearsals, rain or shine. “But Robert Cooper was worth it.”

“I [learned] more about teaching by watching him every week,” she added. “It was a good opportunity to switch roles for me, to sit as a student in the ranks and try to master difficult musical scores.”

Saari says the famous conductor would “tease and cajole” the best out of his singers. This artful conducting was invaluable to Saari, not only as a singer, but as a professor.

“Singing gave me a chance to reflect on my own pedagogical practice with beautiful music all around me,” she said. “It is a very uplifting and creative experience.”

Saari has recently had to put her singing endeavours on hold as she works on her doctoral studies.

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