When Dave Wittick arrived as the new music teacher in Kapuskasing, it was a dream come true for him. He began a love affair with teaching and a love affair with a young local woman… both relationships have turned into his life’s contributions.
As a young couple, Dave and Margo Wittick arrived in Barrie in 1967. The doors at Barrie’s newest high school, Eastview, were about to open. The new principal, Bob Mitchell, interviewed 30-year-old Dave Wittick and said he’d do just fine. He could teach music and he would be very good. Remember, this is a school with no history, no traditions, no school spirit, no reputation.
Two kids signed up for music that year. Not enough for a class. Not enough for a choir. So, another 28 were ‘encouraged’ to add the study of music to their education roster and Dave began his time at Eastview with a teacher’s nightmare: a class full of kids who mostly didn’t want to be there.
Now, this is where the teacher flourishes or perishes. There’s no doubt Dave was a fine musician, holder of his A.R.C.T. (Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto) possessor of grade 10 piano, grade 4 theory. He was a songwriter, a music recorder, a man who lived for cadence, and rhythm, and musical significance.
Faced with a class of reluctance, Dave drew down into his soul and took his wife’s advice. “Get to them Dave. Get to them where they are,” she said. Dave asked them about ‘their’ music. (In 1967 the radio waves were bouncing with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and several one-hit wonders). He asked them to bring in their records. He listened with them to their music. He revelled in their music. He formed a choir and they sang ‘their’ music. He built assignments around the music his students loved. He ‘got’ them. And then he challenged those students with ways to improve that music, those lyrics. He taught kids how to analyze lyrics, and gradually, with stealth, he introduced Beethoven. Then Mozart. Some Taichovsky. Bach. Carefully. With respect. Telling the stories, the incredible drama of the lives of these musicians.
Dave Wittick, the musician and Dave Wittick, the teacher. Eastview Secondary Students were very lucky. They were lucky from 1967 to 1987 when Dave retired. During those years music lived inside David Wittick. He opened up his soul and poured it into his community. Students like Shawn Mei, guitarist, now head of Music at Midland Secondary School. Students like Peter McAllister, of guitarist duo Wilson & McAllister. Students who spent a year on the Road with Up With People. David Wittick reached many, many kids.
As he turned the reins over to Steve Wingfield in 1987, Dave and Margo spent their first winter in Florida, finding a Canadian community in Port Charlotte. There Dave found an eager group of retirees who wanted to sing. For nine years Dave had a choir of 90 voices travelling all over the state and drawing significant attention with every note.
When Margo was battling stage 3 colon cancer four years ago, the Witticks came back to winter in Barrie and take on the battle. Dave would drive Margo to chemotherapy, but his normal, helpful, enthusiasm began to dull. Margo, anxious to connect, would ask Dave to play. He’d sit at the keyboard, poise his fingers over the keys, and drop them. “I don’t want to,” he’d say. In fact, he stopped speaking in sentences. Dave was meeting Alzheimers, the disease that took him away from himself and from Margo long before his death in August.
Unable to converse in sentences, he was still able to sing. A few buddies started coming round on Tuesday nights and together, the “Back Porch Boys” would belt out a few numbers. Dave Wittick could still sing.
Dave’s decline continued. Margo attached bells to all the outside doors of their Horsehoe Valley home. That way she’d hear him when he wandered. His personal care became her daily routine. For three years Margo lived in the truest sense the meaning of “in sickness and in health” and it was with real despair that she packed Dave’s clothes and helped him settle in to Leisure World in Orillia last March. As she wept over her decision, Dave put his arm around her and said “It’s nice. It’s nice.”
David Wittick’s body died very quietly on the afternoon of August 14. His mind began the journey well ahead of him. As Margo and her family prepared Dave’s celebratory send-off, they delved back into the past and brought forward the Dave Wittick that breathed music into people’s lives. His friends spoke. His family prepared a remarkable video story of his life. And the Back Porch Boys (Dave’s final choir) saw him off on his final flight with a healthy round of “My Blue Heaven.”
For Margo, missing Dave is a daily ritual. She missed him long before he left. His tunes remain. Dave’s songs and lyrics, written, recorded, nestle in shelves in his music room, like cadences in his song of life.