By Tim Lambrinos
This month we honour the life of local renowned music teacher Baird Knechtel (May 22, 1937 – May 29, 2020) Baird shared his passion for music with students for more than 40 years throughout his teaching career at various North York high schools. For all the students that he taught and kindled the fire for the love and joy of music, he will be greatly missed. Sadly, many great mentors pass silently into the night without their final five minutes of recognition for the wonderful contributions that great men like Baird gave. We humbly ask you to join with us in a celebration of Baird Knechtel’s life by reading this article published initially in the June 2016 edition of the Emery Village Voice.
In 1967, a 30-year-old refined resident from the small rural community of Hanover, Ontario, was working as a teacher at Jarvis Collegiate in downtown Toronto. A friend and colleague, Diana Scrivens, mentioned that a relatively unknown high school in the borough of North York (named Emery) was searching for someone to head up their music department. Baird Knechtel was motivated to become a department head and initially decided to conduct some familiarization of the Emery community on his own. Fittingly, he was about to learn that he would be teaching music to some students coming from a public school named “Melody Road.”
As Mr. Knechtel drove through and explored the community, he discovered that this part of North York still looked to be in transition from a deeply rural landscape.
Emery Principal Allen Merritt interviewed him for the job and in 1967, and offered Baird the new post. After accepting the position as Head of the Music Department at Emery, Baird Knechtel set the wheels in motion to establish a stellar, top-notch music program for the students. Almost immediately, Emery’s individual students, orchestras and bands began winning first place awards in Kiwanis Festivals on a regular basis.
Knechtel was totally dedicated to motivate students to achieve higher levels of greatness in classical music, however not all of Emery’s students connected and chose to pursue different career interests in other fields.
The Knechtel family businesses (Knechtel’s Kitchen Kabinets and Knechtel’s Kabinet Kreations) were established with his father Alban who was born in 1911 in Hanover, Ontario. He amazingly lived to the precise age of 100 passing away just five years ago.
Alban was an avid amateur botanist who knew all the formal names of different varieties of plants and shrubs that he tenderly nurtured in his personal garden. He was well known in the Hanover area for his green thumb, but his genuine passion was actually playing the violin and the ukulele. Baird followed in his father’s footsteps and became a polished master on the viola himself. He received his post-secondary school education in music at the University of Toronto. He completed his Masters degree at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York while he was teaching at Emery Collegiate.
Knechtel married Maria Kohut in 1961 and the Knechtel's have two daughters and one son. The Knechtel's were an extremely close couple who worked together faithfully each and every day. They were supportive partners in life and business throughout all the time working together at the school. They were all-inclusive soul-mates.
Maria Eugenia Knechtel passed away two days after last Christmas 2015, at the age of 77. Over the last few years, Maria had been undergoing and enduring a rather lengthy illness but Baird made sure that the Provincial CCAC staff and Premier Home Care Services were praised for their dedication toward Maria’s continuing health over her last several years. Maria taught music to students at Emery throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, alongside Baird. In 1978, she took over teaching all Baird’s classes temporarily while he was away on a brief sabbatical. He wrote books and a score of individual parts for all string instruments.
Also during this time, Baird played viola with the Canadian Opera Company orchestra in their regular season at the O’Keefe Centre. Some of Mr. and Mrs. Knechtel’s greatest times together were putting on a countless number of school shows comprised of Emery students. They arranged all the musical segments of the shows with theatrical direction provided by popular Theatre Arts teacher, Miss Doris Manetta.
Some of Mr. Knechtel’s most appreciated accomplishments at Emery included recording LP albums of the school’s orchestra from 1969 through 1979. As well, the two sensational exchange trips that were made to Fox Chapel High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Another great memory occurred in 1975 when the school’s orchestra played a full concert at the Ontario Place Forum. This concert included having trained members from the Gladys Forrester School of Dance.
Baird Knechtel’s musical influences transformed dozens upon dozens of students into talented professional musicians including Don Dawson, Claudio Vena, Lou Pomanti, Carol McCartney, Terry Draper, Mike Lyons, Ron Chambers, Peter Mueller, John Woloschuk, Linda Minty, Grace Bridgeman, Jamie Bridgeman, Henryk Riik, Larry Turner, Doug Boy, Maureen Duncan, Moses Hazan, John Marmora, Laura Pahapill, Janice Denike, Gwen Shantz, Stan Van Zulyen, Bob Leonard, Ron Rand, Jill Preston and Ross and Bruce Pooley. His students created the legendary saying, “At Emery, music is an art, not just another subject.”
In 2009, Knechtel was awarded a Life-time Achievement Award by the Canadian Viola Society for his contribution to music and the arts. Retired from teaching since 2001, Baird still continues to be an accomplished musician performing in the group Trio Bravo (Baird Knechtel – viola, Terry Storr – clarinet and Dr. John Selleck – piano). The trio recorded a wonderful classical CD in 2014 at the All Saints’ Kingsway Anglican Church in Etobicoke.
These days (very much like his father), 79 year old Baird Knechtel takes great pride and continues to give total attention to his own personal garden at his home in Etobicoke. His precision and detail to his wood-working is another dedicated hobby that Baird embraces to the fullest. For relaxation, he finds perfect freedom while sitting in his backyard on his custom-made Lutyens bench. He constructed it with plans at the Franklin Horner Woodshop from a famed classic English design. Baird Knechtel’s current music with Trio Bravo can be found at: www.triobravo.com
We hope that you enjoyed reading this article one more time. We’ll leave you with some recent quotes that were offered by family and students.
Barbara Knechtel Wilds (Daughter)Every Christmas, my father made sure that we could watch the Nutcracker Suite, and it became one of our cherished family traditions.
Doris Manetta (fellow teacher)He was so special, so talented and so supported of everyone he came in touch with. Always with a smile.
Lou Pomanti (Student and accomplished composer)When I entered Emery senior high in Grade 10, the one-two punch of Mr. Knechtel and Mr. Jones cemented my desire to become a professional musician.
Claudio Vena (Student and accomplished musician)Mr. Knechtel developed a great music program at Emery that helped shape many top-notch Canadian musicians.
Carol McCartney (Student and accomplished singer)A dedicated, inspiring professional mentor who led by example.