Teacher al­ways shared the gift of mu­sic

Or­gan­ist taught Win­nipeg stu­dents for four decades

Winnipeg Free Press - - PASSAGES - ASH­LEY PREST ash­[email protected]­ress.mb.ca

DON Askholm loved noth­ing more than stop­ping by an un­fa­mil­iar church and play­ing a song on its or­gan.

A life­long mu­si­cian, choir leader and mu­sic teacher for 40 years, Askholm loved to sit down at a ma­jes­tic mu­si­cal in­stru­ment and light up the key­board with a tra­di­tional hymn or lively jazz piece. His life’s work was shar­ing mu­sic and en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to join him.

Askholm died April 9 at the age of 67, af­ter a dif­fi­cult bat­tle with Lewy body de­men­tia.

Kathy Askholm, Don’s wife of 41 years, said he played or­gans ev­ery­where he went — in ma­jes­tic cathe­drals, his­toric chapels and even dur­ing in­ter­na­tional va­ca­tions.

“No mat­ter where we trav­elled — and our kids (Jonathan, 36, and Kristine, 33) talk about this all the time — we would al­ways stop at churches, and Don would find a way to get in, and Don would play the or­gan,” said Kathy, 60.

“We were in Cuba and he got in (to a lo­cal church) and played the or­gan. When he and I were in the south of France (in Mont­pel­lier), he did that. When you’re play­ing, you doodle (get ab­sorbed in the mu­sic). He was just play­ing for a while, and we turned around and there were sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple in the sanc­tu­ary and the ser­vice was about to be­gin. The or­gan­ist tapped him on the shoul­der and said, ‘Um, I need to start the ser­vice.’ He had just been pulling out stops, try­ing dif­fer­ent sounds and play­ing.”

An­other time, Kathy said, Askholm’s mother went to Mon­treal some years ago and, when she re­turned, told him she had made ar­range­ments for him to play the or­gan at the mag­nif­i­cent Notre-Dame Basil­ica the next year, dur­ing a planned trip to Que­bec. And so he did.

In the early years of their mar­riage, Don and Kathy would go to or­gan con­ven­tions in var­i­ous cities for con­certs, work­shops and take part in A trib­ute to those who left a mark on our prov­ince “or­gan crawls,” where par­tic­i­pants go from church to church to play the in­stru­ments.

The cou­ple’s trip to France in 1981, be­fore their chil­dren were born, was part of a larger trip which in­cluded Eng­land and var­i­ous cathe­drals in both coun­tries.

“He had said (when plan­ning the trip), ‘Let’s do this when I re­tire,’ and I said, ‘No, we’re do­ing it now’ and I’m aw­fully glad we did,” Kathy said.

Askholm’s ill­ness be­gan not long af­ter he re­tired in 2006. It even­tu­ally took away his abil­ity to play the or­gan or piano, but he con­tin­ued to sing when­ever he could.

The Christ­mas sea­son was al­ways spe­cial to Askholm, with so many choir and mu­si­cal per­for­mances wo­ven through his life. This past Christ­mas, just be­fore he moved to the Po­sei­don Long Term Care Cen­tre in Win­nipeg, he was en­cour­ag­ing his home-care nurses to sing with him.

For 40 years, Askholm was an ed­u­ca­tor, mu­sic teacher and cre­ativ­ity leader. He taught for 11 years at Elm­wood High School and 22 years at Gor­don Bell High School and had shorter stays at École River Heights, Col­lège Béliveau, Sisler High School and Bal­moral Hall. He was a gifted sight-reader of mu­sic.

His obit­u­ary noted: “Don in­spired many young peo­ple to give mu­sic a try, which for some was a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The in­flu­ence of his teach­ing and en­cour­age­ment is a last­ing gift.”

“Don be­lieved any­body could sing, so he would stand in the hall (of schools where he taught) and re­cruit chil­dren to sing. It didn’t mat­ter if they thought they could sing or couldn’t sing, he would re­cruit them,” Kathy said, not­ing Askholm was also known for his in­clu­sion prac­tices in his choirs.

“It wasn’t just one per­son who got the so­los. He would spread it around to give many peo­ple a chance. He would find a way to en­cour­age other peo­ple to try a solo, a trio or quar­tet and he en­cour­aged many, many peo­ple to sing in his church choirs and his school choirs,” she said.

“He saw the best in peo­ple.” Through­out Askholm’s four decades of teach­ing, he also played ev­ery Sun­day as a church or­gan­ist and re­hearsed with the church choir one night each week. Kathy said he called in sick only one Sun­day in his church ca­reer.

He took up dis­tance run­ning in his 40s. Each June, he ran in the Man­i­toba Marathon in ei­ther the half-marathon or with his chil­dren in the re­lay event or Su­per Run.

The fam­ily spent many idyl­lic sum­mers at their cot­tage at Win­nipeg Beach.

Askholm grew up with mu­sic. As a child, he was in the choir at All Saints’ Angli­can Church and played the or­gan and piano. By age 19, he was a choir di­rec­tor. Kathy and Don mar­ried in 1976, not long af­ter she met him at the for­mer Riverview United Church (now Churchill Park).

“When he ar­rived, I joined the choir,” Kathy said, laugh­ing. “He was mak­ing ex­cel­lent mu­sic. And he was good look­ing. And young. I didn’t know if he was sin­gle or not, but I liked what he was do­ing with the choir. I joined, and I sang with him for over 30 years.”

The cou­ple sang to­gether in the choir of 500 for the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 1999 Pan Amer­i­can Games in Win­nipeg.

At Askholm’s me­mo­rial ser­vice April

21 at All Saints’, about 70 mem­bers of his for­mer church choirs hon­oured him, singing to­gether at his ser­vice.

At a re­cep­tion after­wards, a group of his for­mer stu­dents also gath­ered to­gether in song, Kathy said.

“So it was a re­union of some peo­ple who hadn’t been to­gether for over

20 years. It brought a lot of peo­ple to­gether,” Kathy said. “It was just a spon­ta­neous thing, be­cause that’s what they re­mem­bered of him.”

His me­mo­rial stone in­cludes the word Siya­hamba — the African ti­tle of a song of­ten per­formed by Askholm-led choirs over the years — and a sen­tence from the English ver­sion of it: “Don is walk­ing in the light of God.”


Don Askholm plays an or­gan at a church in Havana, Cuba, in 2006. Askholm played or­gans at churches dur­ing his trav­els with his wife Kathy.

Don Askholm sings Christ­mas car­ols at home with his chil­dren, Jonathan and Kristine, in 1994.

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