By Kris Demeanor
Calgary’s first Poet Laureate, Kris Demeanor, credits his favorite teacher for inspiring his lifelong love of music and performance.
Mr. Ferby – his Grade 4 home room teacher at Nellie McClung Elementary School in Calgary–gave Demeanor his first exposure to singing and performing.
“He displayed just so much passion and commitment to what he was doing,” says Demeanor, 42, a born and raised Calgarian who has been a working singer-songwriter for about 15 years.
When teaching music, Ferby “would pound away at the piano as we sang along. He really got the kids excited,” recalls Demeanor, who has performed around the world and is a fixture in Calgary's spoken word, theatre and music scenes.
Ferby “affected me more than any other teacher, in a positive way. I liked the fact that he was so driven, and you felt this responsibility to do well because you wanted to please him. A teacher who can do that, is unique. He was able to focus my creative energy in a place where I was able to see a result that pleased me and that made me happy.”
Poem for Mr Ferby
If in his favour, a child would become acquainted with the bowl of white mints
If not–if a joker, disturbance, or even somewhat unlucky in character or acheivement,
The prospect was more likely becoming familiar with the sting of the blue ruler that lurked at the back of the slide out shelf. Four smacks on the open hand
I, a strong, respectful student, only questionable thing maybe the uneven cut of my bangs
Was on the receiving end of not only candy, but pineapple smelly stickers, and plum roles
in school musicals
I had never seen someone so purposefully punishing a piano- standing, bench pushed back,
pounding like Jerry Lee, preacher like:
Live goes on! Bra! La la, how the life goes on!
The young choir matching his energy and attack with volume- more shouting than singing,
a punk rock
Finally facing my Waterloo!
A new, visceral blast, this union of musical skill and abandon–in the future, I would relive
the same kick of adrenalin going 200 km/hr on the Autobahn, smashing a cinder block with
a sledge hammer, arguing with my spouse about the World Bank
His God-backed passion shook my pantheism, the reverence in the way he showed us so
carefully and respectfully how to break in our new red Bibles so the binding could be
warmed up and cracked after being stacked compactly in a box
“First in the middle–open and bend back the two halves. Now at the quarter point in the
book. Quarter, Scott.......quarter. Now again at the three quarter part. Open and bend back.”
Shadrach, Meshach, Abednigo / Lived in Judah a long time ago
They had funny names and they lived far away / But they set an example we can follow
I was Meshach, and we proud Jews would not bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol-
we would only worhip our Lord. And as we were thrown into the fire, seven times hotter
than normal, angels grabbed us before we burned to reward us for our faith in Him.
This was where melody and discipline met, where I realized that music was what came out
of the valve when necessity said ‘release the sanctimony and rage within’
Since our year together in the open air circle of a very Seventies concept school, where
oranges, browns and yellows mixed with light moss greens, I too have stomped and sweat
for those who don’t know why they’re here.
Religion I look on still with fascination and horror
But have not bowed to golden idols
I am protected
Even a little righteous
And have, for the most part, dodged the ruler and gorged on mints.
To music, music teacher!