The Knechtel family’s mark on music at Emery
By Tim Lambrinos
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 decided to give the recommendation so that Baird would be offered 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 Kiwanis Festivals’ first place awards on a regular basis. Baird was totally dedicated to motivating students to achieve higher levels of greatness in classical music, however not all of Emery’s students connected and some chose to pursue other careers.
The Knechtel family businesses (Knechtel’s Kitchen Kabinets and Knechtel’s Kabinet Kreations) were established when Baird’s father Alban was born in 1911 in Hanover. He 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 – which he tenderly nurtured in his personal garden. He was well known in the Hanover area for a green thumb but his genuine passion was playing the violin and the ukulele.
Baird followed in his father’s footsteps in this way and became a polished master on the viola himself. Baird received his post-secondary school education in music at the University of Toronto. He completed a Masters degree at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York while he was teaching at Emery Collegiate. He married Maria Kohut in 1961 and the Knechtels have two daughters and one son. The Knechtels 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 enduring a lengthy illness but Baird made sure 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 while he was away on a brief sabbatical. During this time, he wrote books for a set and scores 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 countless numbers 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, Linda Minty, Grace Bridgeman, Henryk Riik, Larry Turner, Doug Boy, Maureen Duncan, Janice Denike, Gwen Shantz, Stan Vanzuylen, 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, Baird 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.ca.