Reflective Autobiography

Basic Life Course

Lee (Roy) Bartel was born on April 4,1948 to Peter and Margaret Bartel and was raised near Kleefeld Manitoba Canada. He attended the local four-room country school through grade 10 and then completed High School at a private Mennonite school in Steinbach. After two years of study toward a Sacred Music Diploma he attended the University of Manitoba and was certified as a teacher in 1969. As a science and music teacher he taught grades 7 – 10 from 1969 – 1972 completing a BA in history during this time at the University of Manitoba. Between 1973 and 1975 he completed a B.Mus in secondary instrumental music education at Brandon University while teaching at the University and serving as Music Coordinator for the Morris MacDonald School Division. In 1975 he became head of the music department at Steinbach Bible College (a Mennonite theological and liberal arts school and private high school). From 1975 until 1987 he worked in SBC and community contributing to initiatives like the Steinbach Arts Council, the community concert series, music festivals, Winnipeg Singers, etc. During this time he also earned A.Mus and L.Mus diplomas in vocal performance and an M.Ed from the University of Manitoba. In 1984 he began doctoral studies at University of Minnesota and continued these at University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign in 1985 graduating with a PhD in 1988. In 1987 he was Visiting Professor at University of Toronto and in 1988 was appointed Assistant Professor. After working on research teams at Bloorview Kids Rehab and Lyndhurst Hospital, and research through the Centre for Health Promotion, he began designing brain-wave entraining music for health in 1997. With training in EEG analysis and several R & D studies in music response, he developed a course in Music and the Brain while visiting research scholar at University of South Florida in 2004. In 2006 he began research with cochlear implant recipients at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Early Years

I was born the youngest of a family of four children just three years after my father was ordained to become a minister in the Kleine Gemeinde Mennonite Church. Although required to be self-supporting with his mixed farm, his mind was on things like the Mennonite World Conference he attended in Chicago that summer, the college board to which he had just been appointed, and the “church planting” mission of which he was a founding member. My mother, although she loved the idea of farming, would rather have been educated as a medical doctor – difficult for a Mennonite girl in the Great Depression – and now impossible as the mother of four. She loved music, came from a musical family, had been taught to read music, and had played instruments with her family– but my father came from a variety of Mennonites that believed musical instruments were sinful. Choral music and singing was fine. Instruments had to be small so they could be put away.
My first languages were “Low German” for ordinary things and proper German for all things literary and religious. In church I only heard German – the Bible, sermons, and hymns. At home Low German was the medium of communication, but the German Bible was read every morning, prayer was in German, as were many proverbs and Bible verses with which I was “trained” into the proper behaviour. I probably learned some English from the radio but mainly it was by total immersion at school.

By current standards we were dirt poor. Until I was about eight we had no running water or indoor plumbing – outhouse and pails of water from the well. By the time I was 13 we had built a simple new modern house. This modest change in economic status was due to bees and honey.

Significant Ancestors

On my father's side of my family the man of historic importance was David Klassen, my father's mother's grandfather, my great great grandfather. Prior to the Mennonite migration from Ukraine to Canada in 1874, a group of men came as "scouts" to check out western Canada and western US. David Klassen was one of this group.
On my mother's side the man in the history books and the one who became my life's attainment goal and model was my mother's grandfather - my great grandfather - John S. Rempel. He was considered highly educated, rich, and politically connected. Since he stayed in Kitchener from 1874 - 1875, he learned English and was therefore chosen by the government official, Hespler, to be the secretary and correspondent between the Mennonite community and the government. He was also esteemed as an inventor and innovator.


Bees played a very important role in my life. My father learned the business in the 30’s and then during WWII when sugar was scarce. When roads and trucks made the travel required for the business possible, he expanded to full commercial size. By the time I was 10 he was operating 675 hives and producing around 130,000 pounds of honey per year. At age nine my allowance was cut off and I was given a hive of bees. That meant I had to spend the summer working with the bees and honey the best I could. To get an increase in income I merely needed to save about $5.00 for an extra hive. So at age 10 I had 2 hives and by High School I owned 60 hives.

One of the most significant aspects of the bee business was the annual trip to the Southern US – at first to Alabama and later to Texas to purchase bees. These trips to the south became vacations with stops in Chicago or St Louis or Indianapolis or Mobile or the Smoky Mountains or the Florida Pan handle. I got to visit museums, zoos, caves, antebellum mansions, gardens, the Mississippi, and the Gulf coast. It gave me a keen sense of the times in the South from the 1950’s and segregation, of colored toilets and water fountains, injustice and intolerance, through the civil rights bill and the demonstrations. I saw tornados and cotton trucks, brawls in bars, cheap motels, ate grits and the first 17 cent hamburgers at MacDonalds. It allowed me to drive a truck through the heart of Chicago on a toll road at age 16. It was an education most Mennonite farm boys would never get. It was what opened the world to me.

When I became a teacher I sold my bees – but 3 years later I started working with my father again and in 1975 began taking over the family business. I went into business with my brother-in-law and together we operated 460 hives of bees (while I studied and taught and while he ran a masonry business as well). When the US-Canadian border closed to bee importation in 1986 I sold my share of the business.


My first “real” job, working for an hourly wage away from home, came right after High School in 1966. Having had the highest graduating average in my school, and in the top three of the school district in 1966, I looked for an interesting job. What I got was a position in the control laboratory of Manitoba Sugar Refinery. Science subjects, particularly chemistry, had been my strength in High School and so this was fascinating to me. I went from this position to the University of Manitoba Teacher Education Program and there found science education a natural fit. At the end of that program I received the Manitoba Science Teachers’ Award and my first teaching position as a science teacher in St. Boniface School Division. I also taught music and shortly that became my main area. The combination of science and music was finally realized in my research at the University of Toronto.

[For a paper drawing research principles from my experience as a beekeeper, sugar beet refinery lab technician, and growing up in a conservative Mennonite context, please see “Bees, Beets, and Brethren: The Development of a Researcher’s Mindset”]

Early Musical Development

When my mother was pregnant with her first child she traded her seven-string Russian guitar for a baby’s high chair. It was symbolic of the change she had made from her culture to my father’s Mennonite culture where musical instruments were not allowed. But her musical desires could not be stifled and soon she found ways to give my older siblings instruments. By the time I was on the scene there were various folk instruments in the house. And I eagerly learned all I could.

I first learned to play harmonica (my grandfather was my mentor) and then guitar. Fortunately my sister’s boyfriend and then husband was a fine country guitarist with a Gibson J45 and so I learned from him. This was followed with autoharp, mandolin, and some fiddle, all mainly self-taught. With honey money I bought my first guitar – an S S Stewart Jumbo.

My earliest musical memories point beyond the country folk music native to the instruments at hand. A highly significant moment came when I was about 4 years old sitting in the front row with my father at a graduation of the college where he was a board member and being about 8 feet away from the conductor of the choir – the presence of the music and the power of the gesture captured my mind. I remember sitting in church “on the men’s side” with a pew full of men singing bass and tenor and feeling the wooden pew vibrate to the low notes. When I was about eight, my sister got a record player and a subscription to the Time-Life record club. The record of Schubert Symphony No. 5 with Charles Munch conducting “blew me away.” A year or so later my sister sang in the concert hall in Winnipeg with the Sacred Music Society. The performance of the Messiah with pipe organ was a thrill without equal. And a mainstay was the big parlour radio and the CBC which introduced me to a wide range of music from the Texaco Opera Broadcast to Andre Segovia to Norma Beecroft. Although I had good choral singing experiences in school, I had no opportunity for formal music lessons until I was 17 years old.

Music in our small four-room country school focused on singing. In the early grades this mainly consisted of the daily O Canada and God Save the Queen but also weekly singing classes. I remember thinking bass parts while singing songs in grade two. From Grade 3 on we had weekly singing classes – using the little red “Manitoba School Song Book” and favorites like “John Brown’s Body” and an assortment of sea shanties. With the arrival in Grade 4 of “Miss Wiebe” as our teacher, we found considerably more sophistication in our music instruction and a choir approach to our singing. Performances at the annual Christmas program, parents’ days, music and drama nights, and end of year picnic gave opportunities to share our singing. The principal during my 10 years in this school, Mr. Reimer, was very supportive of music and often lead our singing classes himself. He seemed to select teachers in the small staff that had music ability. Particularly influential was Mr. Earnest Dueck who was my teacher in grades 7 and 8. He took the class choir to the local music festival, encouraged individuals to enter as soloists, and formed small ensembles. With his instruction I first joined a small mixed group that sang a novelty number at a Talent Competition (and placed second). In this group were Dr. Ken Kliewer, and Music Professor Rudy Schellenberg. In grade 8 we formed a male octet singing a variety of quartet and barbershop-type music. That year an upper grades choir was organized with Ruth Reimer, the principal’s daughter conducting.

From fairly early grades sight reading with solfege was included. This became rigorous in Grade 9 with the Manitoba School Curriculum first including an official music component. The Grade 9 curriculum also included some listening, Italian music terms, composer information etc. Grade 10 included none.

Throughout middle and high school I continued to develop as a guitarist playing regularly for school group singing, with other instrumentalists, and solo.

Transition Years – Getting Serious About Music

I attended Grade 11 and 12 in a private school in Steinbach. This was associated with a post secondary program and so for the first time I encountered “educated” specialized musicians. In Grade 11 I sang with the college choir with Henry Hiebert as conductor. The repertoire was challenging for a change and the experience highly motivating. Then in Grade 12 Bill Derksen arrived and with him I began violin lessons, excellent choral experiences, and theory instruction. I continued on at the school for two more years after high school in the Sacred Music Diploma program studying choral conducting, theory, violin, voice, and singing in the chamber choir, a male quartet, and the college concert choir. During this time I began conducting the choir in the Kleefeld EMC Church and contributed to change in the Mennonite Church music context through the arranging and performing of contemporary gospel folk music.

In 1968 I began the teacher education program at the University of Manitoba, Faculty of Education. Although a comprehensive certification program, my primary interests were science and music. Music involvement consisted of singing in the Faculty of Education choir including performances in schools and the pedagogy classes with Profs. Jake Redekop, Colin Wally, and Herb Belyea.

I began teaching in 1969 at Pierre Radisson Collegiate as a science and music teacher. With the strong mentorship of Edward Lujan I also began to move into instrumental teaching as we began a band program. With woodwinds his area, I made brass my focus. In 1970 I started one of the first guitar programs in Winnipeg with 3 classes and about 80 students beginning with new Yamaha guitars either purchased or rented. With the strong support of music supervisor Winnifred Voigts, I developed a noteworthy guitar and choral program, visited by none other than my former principal of 10 years, Mr. Richard Reimer, who had inquired at the Department of Education as to what school he should visit in Winnipeg to see an exemplary program and was referred to mine. My innovation included the prominent use of pop and rock music of the day both as performance music and as content to achieve curricular goals. Jesus Christ Superstar lead to Mozart opera,
Mass in F by the Electric Prunes lead to Haydn’s Mass in Time of War (Vietnam era), Iron Butterfly’s “In a gadda da vida” lead to Ravel’s Bolero, etc. In 1972-1973 I worked with Yamaha to create a program of ensemble-based instructional material for guitar called “Get into Guitar.”

Through this time I studied violin with Richard Seaborn, former concert master of the Winnipeg Symphony and played in the Steinbach Community Orchestra. I also continued part-time study toward my Bachelor of Arts with a major in history and a minor in music at University of Manitoba, completing it in 1973. Having studied violin consistently and intensely from 1967 until 1973, I auditioned for admission to Brandon University School of Music with advanced standing. In 1975 I graduated with a 4 year Bachelor of Music in Secondary Instrumental Music, having also served as Associate Teacher of Guitar, an instructor in the Secondary General Music course, choral director at a Brandon church, and as Part-time Coordinator of Music for the Morris MacDonald School Division some 2 hour drive away.

Vocal Performance

Having started formal violin study only at age 17, I new I had a formidable challenge to develop adequate ability to play professionally. Research now shows that to achieve professional competence one needs to practice around 10,000 hours. By the end of my Bachelor of Music I had probably only played some 7000 hours. Although I played extensively in community orchestras, pick-up professional orchestras, and my own string quartet, I realized that substantial solo roles would probably always escape me. However, having sung throughout my childhood and adolescence, studied voice in my teen years, and sung in some fine choral ensembles, I discovered my greater potential as a singer. I began studying voice as a minor field during my last year in Brandon and sang some solo roles. I continued studying with John Martens and Harriet Standring, completing my Associate Diploma in Vocal Performance from the Western Board of Music with her.

In 1982 I had planned to go to Tucson Arizona to study for a Master of Music in vocal performance but the teacher for whom I auditioned decided to retire. On the advice of John Martens I applied to study with Bernard Diamant at the University of Toronto and commuted to Toronto through that year to study voice. This year revolutionized my technique and confidence. I began to take on significant oratorio roles, sang a series of recitals, sang with the Winnipeg Singers and completed the requirements for the Licentiate Diploma in Vocal Performance from the Western Board of Music.

I continued my vocal studies with Clifton Ware as I began my doctoral work at the University of Minnesota and then with the renowned William Warfield at the University of Illinois. I had the delight of working through some of the repertoire he was most famous for – Britten Songs, Elijah, etc., and singing at times with the University Opera Department, e.g., the role of Priest of Jupiter in Handel’s Hercules. After my move to Toronto in 1988 my involvement as a choral director demanded a choice – singing or conducting and I chose to conduct. I sang occasionally, mainly in church contexts, until my “retirement” as a singer in 1995.

[Link to Selected Vocal Performance List]