Self taught musician, long time performer
Bay de Verde roots instilled love of music for musician
When the annual Grandparents Day celebration was held at Woodland Elementary in Dildo June 10, most people just took it for granted local singer Richard Woodrow would be among the entertainment.
Woodrow, who retired from teaching at the school in 2001, has been performing at the annual event for over 20 years. In fact Woodrow, along with another Grade 5 teacher, Barry Smith of Bay Roberts (also retired) founded the Grandparents Day celebration at the school.
“ The first one ( Grandparents Day) we organized was held around the mid eighties, just after the new social studies program came into effect,” recalls Woodrow. “ It put a lot of focus on our heritage and the importance of finding out where we came from and emphasized the need to continue our Newfoundland traditions. Grandparents played a huge role in that, so we started asking them ( Grandparents) to come to the school and talk about what it was like growing up in Newfoundland years ago. Over the years we had numerous speakers.”
Woodrow says the directors and staff of the for- mer Avalon North Integrated School Board and the Avalon West School District supported the concept.
“They saw it as a valuable tool for teaching and learning. The students really enjoyed it and never forgot what they learned. It also helped them realize the importance of preserving their culture.” Over the years the event at Woodland grew. “We started inviting more people in and really put a focus on music. We made it just as enjoyable for the Grandparents as for the students. Every year we would add to the program until we had included all kinds of Newfoundland food, performers, songs and dance.”
During his 30-year career as a classroom teacher, Woodrow often brought his guitar and accordion to school with him as teaching tools. And while other teachers in schools across the province were struggling to find ways to instil an appreciation of Newfoundland history in their students, Woodrow already had a plan in place. Wherever possible he incorporated music into the curriculum.
According to many of his former students the significance of a past event was best learned by listening to Woodrow play a song about that event on his button accordion.
During his time at Woodland, Woodrow, along with another teacher, Brenda Brown, also founded the traditional Newfoundland dance group, The Woodland Lancer Dancers. The group performed at many community and school events, including Grandparents Day.
Self taught musician
After his retirement Woodrow joined a band and the group Island Trio play at community functions all over the island. The mild mannered musician also performs solo and is a regular entertainer at the Woody Island Resort, Placentia Bay. He has also produced three albums - Images of me, No other love and Island Favourites.
He says his love for Newfoundland music first took hold when he was growing up in Bay de Verde.
As with most small communities, music was a big part of socializing and a way to pass the time. The first instrument he taught himself to play was the button accordion.
“There were always lots of people coming and going at our house and plenty of music being played,” Woodrow reflects.
“This as well as the songs being played on the
‘My mother borrowed an old accordion from someone in the community for me to use’
Big 6 radio program is where it all started for me I guess. My family were also very encouraging, my mother borrowed an old accordion from someone in the community for me to use, it had a few holes in it, but to me it was a wonderful instrument. I’d listen to the songs and all the notes and then play them. The first tune I ever played on the accordion was
Shoe the Donkey, I learned it from Don Keys, a fellow from Bay de Verde.”
When Woodrow was around 10 years old he got a brand new accordion.
“ My brother Luke, who was in the Navy, came home for a visit and brought one back to me. It was one of the best gifts I ever received,” he said.
During his teens Woodrow started teaching himself how to play the guitar and before long he discovered he could also carry a tune. However, while he was extremely talented, he was also painfully shy. Many years passed before he was able to drum up the courage to sing and play for a large audience. His abil- ity to overcome his bashfulness while on stage came as a surprise to all who knew him, even to his wife Marie.
“ If someone had told me when we were married ( 34 years ago) that Richard would some day be singing and playing in public, I would have told them they were crazy,” she chuckles. “ He was just too timid and shy.”
Woodrow and Marie reside in Dildo. The couple has two daughters, Jennifer and Janine and three dogs, Willow, Curley and Fozzie.
MILD MANNERED MUSICIAN - Richard Woodrow sings the Newfoundland song
during Grandparents Day at Woodland Elementary in Dildo June 10. The retired teacher has been performing at the annual event ever since it began sometime during the mid eighties.