GHS teacher Terry Vint was ‘Mr. Music’ for over 30 years in Gravenhurst

Terry Vint was the mafia maestro for this fun student band undertaking in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

Mark Clairmont |

GRAVENHURST — Terry Vint was no Robert Preston, even though John Brownlee may have thought he was.

Let me explain.

After Brownlee hired Vint in 1971, as the first music teacher at Gravenhurst High School, the principal thought it would be a good idea that the school band had uniforms like a marching band.

You know, big hats with chin straps and feathers on top, applets on the shoulders, brass buttons, stripes down the legs — and shoes with white spats.

Just like in the Music Man movie.

Vint, barely a year out of the University of Toronto with a degree in music and teaching, was having none of that.

He preferred a more demure band outfit, something a little less attention-grabbing for a first-time band.

Besides, he would relate years later, he thought the former would look clownish.

Little did he know.

This was the first year the school had a music teacher. They barely had enough instruments for the first few classes and the music room was a portable in the end zone of the soccer field.

And it was September and there was only two months to the November Santa Claus parade.

Well, it was the first and nor the last time the two colleagues (Brownlee a phys-ed jock out of Western) would clash often good-heartedly. (In many ways the two shared similar traits of humour and steeliness.)

But both won out — sort of.

Brownlee got his GHS marching band, quickly assembled and trained by Vint (most students had never touched a brass instrument or woodwind).

And when it came to uniforms, what did they band wear?

Clown costumes, of course, green and red vertical panels stitched hurriedly together by some volunteer parents — each young musician sporting colourful cheek rouge spots.

And that was Terry Vint’s introduction to a colourful and enjoyable musical career of some 25 years — and an equal amount of time in retirement life in Gravenhurst.

He would become “Mr. Music” in Gravenhurst for the better part of three decades.

Terry Vint led the Trinity United Church choir for over two decades as church music director after being coaxed by member Jim Reynolds after fellow musical legend Gordon Sloan died.

That was just one of the many funny stories Friday at Vint’s celebration of life at Trinity United Church, where he was minister of music for more than two decades until a few years ago.

Ironically, Brownlee wasn’t on hand to pay his respects, along with a full house at Trinity. The former GHS head was in hospital at Southlake Newmarket recouping from a recent heart attack.

He would have loved to have been there. But his old school was well represented by former teachers – including a few still teaching today – and a couple hundred appreciative friends and family.

“The Vint,” as he was often referred to, received a fitting sendoff for an educator, friend, mentor, musician and all-round good guy and community supporter.

Vint died Oct. 23, 2018, after a summer of health problems, culminating in cancer.

He was 71.

Vint was a Scarborough kid, a fine young baseball player (“an ace pitcher), hockey goalie (Johnny Bower clone) and accomplished accordion player. He grew up playing home concerts put on by his proud parents.

His mother, Thelma, died this past year at age 94. His father, Lyle, also predeceased him, at age 102, said his cousin Carley Vint-Reed in one of four eulogies.

After high school at Woburn Collegiate, he spent year touring Europe and playing piano in hotels, a skill he would rely on in retirement entertaining winters aboard ships.

While he worked at a family restaurant and loved to kibitz, his time in Gravenhurst “were the best years of his life,” said Vint-Reed.

“He loved Gravenhurst.

“Thank you Gravenhurst for making his life full.”

Terry Vint was just 24 when he left UofT with a music degree in teaching and took the job as the first GHS music teacher and band director in 1971. It was job that would lead to a life-long love affair with the town that benefitted immensely from that musical and community relationship

Vint began his first fulltime teaching gig at GHS and ended his career there.

In between, he taught music to and fostered the musical careers of several generations of youth in Gravenhurst, many who turned out to sing his praises at his swan song.

One of them was Brenda Norwich-Kilbourne, who played French horn in the school band — a team unique to itself.

She credited Vint and those five years in the 90s band with her success today as “team player.”

“He was instrumental — no pun intended — in my life. “He created great people.”

She said music and band let her learn to value of working together — whether it was coming in at the right time in the musical piece or marching to a different funky drummer seemingly every week.

Her father Ron and Vint were teaching friends at GHS and she desperately wanted to be in “The Band” when she entered Grade 9.

Vint told her she was in if she played French horn — because they only had one other player. He was true to his word.

She was amazed at how patient he was teaching brand new music students.
“It must have been so frustrating at times.”

Indeed it was, on occasion Vint used triple forte language to note his frustration.

On the other hand, he could be exceedingly gregarious and helpful beyond call.

When Norwich-Kilbourne needed a credit to graduate, she asked if she could take up Grade 9 trumpet, which Vint reluctantly agreed to credit her for.

When itinerant grade school teacher Kathy Kilbourne married her dad, Norwich-Kilbourne was in her element with all the music around.

“Katy” Kilbourne eventually succeeded Vint as GHS music teacher and went on to an equally beloved musical career at GHS.

The pair was instrumental in a number of local community bands and choirs, including the United Church choir, the Muskoka Concert Band and the Gravenhurst Bifocals Band.

Fellow teacher Steve Thomas said Brownlee assembled some legendary GHS teachers.

A good scholastic team that nurtured students in the arts, science, sports and life.

A tight group who grew up together at the small school of 500 students, a little larger than today.

“The legend lives on,” said Thomas in any number of bright young graduate minds who can trace some heady and fun times to that period in the long and continuing life of GHS.

Terry Vint, left, Fred Schulz and Jim Dolmage formed the popular ‘Square Triangle’ trio with Cyril Fry called the square dances at GHS in the mi-1970s.

Local dentist Jim Reynolds recalled how he recruited Vint to take over the Trinity choir.

Stepping out from the choir, in his flowing blue gown, he said it was after fellow legendary musician Gordon Sloan died that Vint was approached.

It was in Sloan’s Restaurant as Reynolds was going upstairs for a Rotary meeting.

Vint hesitated saying he’d never played the organ or led a choir; but he was willing and overcame some early doubters in the choir with his hard work and accomplished musicianship.

Reynolds noted a tale from fellow teacher Dave Brent, who said Vint can be credited with the Bifocals Band because he started the adult music program in the school that morphed into the beloved local band that will play their annual Remembrance Day service at the legion Sunday, where Vint will no doubt be remembered.

Terry Vint was multi-talented, often multi-tasking by teaching and playing at the same time, to the delight of students and amazement of their  parents and teachers.

Reynolds also helped Vint join the Rotary Club in 1985, where the two are (were) among longest Rotarians today.

Vint kept up Sloan’s tradition that made Rotary the “Singing Club”; and was integral in a number of club concerts and fundraisers, including the Rotary TV Auction where he stayed up late to log items on the computer for sale.

Vint was Rotary president in 1992.

His athleticism came to the fore when he donned his old goalie pads to play with the teachers after school Friday.

But it was his musical contribution the stands out. During school Spring Lits and on many other occasions he was always at the piano accompanying, including being part of a memorable trio called the “Square Triangle,” a square dance group comprised of himself, Fred Schulz on guitar and Jim Dolmage on fiddle — with Cyril Fry calling the squares.

Vint’s life, while mostly music, was typical smalltown. He golfed and fished with buddies. He shared ownership of cabin cruiser boat with friends and fellow teachers the late Gerry Bray and Bernie Bowins (who died this past year) and Bill Reddall who is living in retirement in Toronto with Alzheimer’s.

One of Vint’s best friends, Ralph Hare, was an especially great help to him in his waning months.

And like a lot of family and friends at Vint’s celebration of life, his time in Gravenhurst and contribution to the fabric of the town and makeup of the life and building of sons and daughters can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed in one day.

Gravenhurst has had many extraordinary musical talents over the decades and Vint belongs in their hall of fame company.

On a personal note, I remember being in his first band in 1971 in Grade 10.

Vint liked to laugh about the time I fooled him when my buddy Brian Whitehead was fingering a wrong scale — only it was me he was hearing head bowed playing the right sounds.

That was a funny story and not the ones he told about chaperoning a school trip to Russia in 1974.

Even his family heard about that trip.

But we’ll save that for another band gathering, like dozens of others Terry Vint led.

And we gave him a good sendoff with my Last Post and Trinity choir master Dan McCoy leading one last rendition of O’ When the Saints.

“When Terry Vint goes marching in …” to heaven.