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'So much of who I am as a teacher and musician is because of Donna'

Donna Hargreaves is the organizer of The Sounds of Joy Concert Sunday, Dec. 23 at Trinity United Church. Showcasing Pictou County’s best, it will also raise funds for Tearmann House.
Donna Lea Hargreaves Cameron, 78, Abercrombie, passed away peacefully, May 11, 2019.

Friends and former students mourn after the passing of Donna Hargreaves

Marcel d’Entremont’s flight had landed in Halifax on Sunday when he first heard the news.

“The last time I saw her she looked and acted like she did when we first met,” said d’Entremont about his friend and former music teacher Donna Hargreaves who passed away peacefully on May 11, 2019.

“I knew that she had been battling cancer, but I put it out of my mind. This is Donna. It seemed like she’d be immortal.”

d’Entremont doesn’t live in Pictou County anymore, but was in Halifax to perform with Opera Nova Scotia in a production of The Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan.

He’s a vocalist, but his initiation into music was through the piano. Hargreaves was his teacher.

“I was a terrible piano student,” laughed d’Entremont during an interview. “There were times when I’d walk in and it was like ‘oh my gosh he hasn’t practiced since last week’. She could see right through that. It was tough love because she was trying to get you to do your best because she knew that you could do better.”

Like many alumni of Frank H MacDonald Elementary School, d’Entremont first met Hargreaves in his Grade 1 homeroom class.

“I can’t say enough for what she’s done for me. Both as a musician and as a person.”

For Dave Pos, a retired music teacher, Hargreaves was both a friend and a matchmaker.

“Donna introduced me to Shelly, and we were married a few years later,” said Pos who at the time was teaching in Parrsboro and had gotten to know Hargreaves through their work with the Nova Scotia Music Educators Association.

“Donna introduced us at a music teacher’s conference and I eventually applied for a music position in Pictou County and moved here in 1987. We were married in 1989.”

And later, their daughter would study piano with Hargreaves. Now she has her own band in Toronto.

“Our community has lost a musical giant,” said Ann Holton Melong during her lunch break at GR Saunders where she teaches music.

“My grandmother was adamant I study piano with Donna, but her lessons didn’t stop there. They go far beyond musical technique," she said. "As a music teacher the last few days have been most difficult,” said Melong. “I step into my classroom and I as I look around and teach I know that so much of who I am as a teacher and musician is because of Donna. I strive for high standards, compassion, and respect as a teacher and musician because she instilled that in me.”

When Hargreaves wasn’t teaching in school, or at her Ash Lane studios, she was busy in her role as chairman of the Tearmann Society for Abused Women, filling in as musical director at Trinity United Church in New Glasgow, or working year-round on her Christmas concert.

“We would chuckle when her email would arrive in April asking us to perform, and then in July wondering what we will be performing,” said Melong.

Every Christmas Hargreaves built the Sounds of Joy repertoire around her former students and other local musicians, celebrating their talent and raising money for local charities.

d’Entremont, who is based in Montreal these days, says that he will be in Trinity United Church on Thursday.

“In Montreal, and in Toronto, people in those cities say that there’s something in the water in Pictou County, because there are so many musicians that come out of here. But I don’t think there was something in the water,” he said. “I think there was something in our teachers, and Donna was a big part of that.”

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