As the arts school named after Gary Graham prepares for its first Christmas without him, the legacy he left is beginning to reverberate more strongly.
Graham, who died in June at the age of 73, was a beloved and admired music teacher in Corner Brook.
On Sunday at 7 p.m., the Graham Academy will hold its annual chorale event at All Saints Church on Clarence Street. This year, it's titled Welcome Christmas and the occasion has many reflecting on the decades of influence Graham had on Corner Brook and area's vibrant arts community.
That influence has reached across generations of musical talent. For the Manuel family of Corner Brook, his impact has spanned four generations.
Tara Manuel, a former student of Graham’s, says his relationship with her family was first established when he arrived in Corner Brook in 1966. He befriended her mother, Janet Manuel, a classically-trained singer.
According to Tara, the friendship was “wonderful” for her mother. Graham helped give the 30-year-old mother of 10 an outlet for her creative passions, she said.
In 1967, Janet was part of a Corner Brook choir that travelled with Graham to perform at the Montreal Expo.
They would perform together many more times in the ensuing years.
“Gary was an important lifeline and friend to my mom,” Tara told The Western Star.
Graham’s generosity to Janet and her family extended beyond music.
As a young girl, Tara took singing and piano lessons with Graham.
When Tara’s father died in 1987, Janet still had six children to raise by herself.
Tara says there were many times when Graham helped Janet out by returning the money she paid him for Tara’s lessons.
“In his very discreet way,” she commented. “And he had a way of doing that without making it feel like charity.”
Sometimes, he returned the money and asked Janet to buy Tara an outfit to wear at the festival, she recalls fondly.
Tara continued lessons with Graham until she moved away for school.
She would train to be an actor before returning to Corner Brook in 2000 with her own family.
When her oldest son, Jack, was in Grade 2, he started taking lessons with Graham. He and his younger brother, Sam, both learned saxophone and piano under Graham’s tutelage.
“Those were wonderful times, I used to sit and knit while he taught my sons and it repeated a ritual from a generation before. My mother used to sit and knit while I did my lessons with Gary,” she shared.
Jack developed his musical talents and would be offered a scholarship for McGill University’s music program.
Tara said Graham helped both her and her children develop a deep appreciation for music and taught them discipline.
“Being a student of Gary’s, one had to cultivate discipline because you did not want to disappoint him,” she said.
It was also around this time Graham started volunteering to help a fourth generation of the Manuel family, namely Tara’s grandmother, Isabella Walsh.
Walsh entered the O’Connell Centre in Corner Brook at the age of 98.
Graham would visit her and volunteered to feed her breakfast.
They were friends until she passed away at the age of 100.
Tara would eventually start performing with Graham in a professional capacity. She produced cabarets at the Corner Brook Arts and Culture Centre and performed theatre puppetry with his support.
“He was always up for a bit of fun,” she said. “Because of Gary, I was able to really experiment and try things.”
They performed together several times over the years, including at the 50th Anniversary of the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal in 2011.
She said he always said “yes” to different performances and ideas.
“It’s like that possibility is gone and I’ve been grieving that,” said Tara. “But at the same time, I recognize that Gary will live on forever in the community because he gave so much and taught so many of us so much.”