Tiiu Haamer – A wonderful addition to the community of Wallaceburg

By Dave Babbitt – Special to the Sydenham Current

Ever since the incredibly devastating downturn of the economy in the early 2000’s and the subsequent loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs, I’ve become aware of a significant influx of people moving here, as our community has become a lure to retirees.

This week I’d like to introduce readers to a wonderful addition to our community, and as this is an Arts column, a significant addition to the depth of the Arts and Culture of Wallaceburg.

Of Estonian parents, Tiiu Haamer was born in London, England where she spent the first 9 years of her life.

Having a piano in her home, she looked upon it as big “toy” and by the age of five, was composing her own music and begging her mother to allow her to take piano lessons.

In speaking with Tiiu, I commented on how backward that story is to most that I have heard over the years where parents “forced” their child to take piano lessons against their will.

Tiiu began her formal journey and love affair with the piano at the tender age of six, taking lessons from a very well known Concert Pianist in London whom she simply loved working with.

Her father passed away very early in her life, and she moved to Canada with her mother, living in a variety of communities including London, Toronto and Hamilton.

After arriving in Canada, Tiiu continued with her piano studies and her prodigious talent combined with an incredible work ethic, qualified her to take her ARCT exams before she even finished high school, a feat very few could ever hope to accomplish, let alone at such a young age. However, she decided not to take the ARCT exams as she felt the need to concentrate on her physics studies as she approached graduation.

Tiiu’s first stop after high school was the University of Toronto when she earned her Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance.

In the recent past, I wrote a column speaking of the incredibly high standards one needs to reach just to be accepted in a Performance degree program let alone graduate. Being accepted into any university music program is difficult, but Performance Majors are next-level talents, and most are usually headed for the worlds’ concert stages.

After graduating from U of T, Tiiu was accepted at the highly regarded Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

I am very familiar with the incredible high regard for Eastman which has turned out some of the worlds greatest musicians including Chuck Dallenbach, founder of the Canadian Brass, world renowned tubist Roger Bobo, the incredible jazz drummer Steve Gadd, (50 Ways to Leave Your Lover), trumpeters Chuck Mangione, Allen Vizzutti and Lew Soloff, record mogul Mitch Miller, and the worlds best-known composer of movie music, John Williams. While not necessarily rubbing elbows with those names, she shares the same lineage and high standards.

Her time at Eastman earned Tiiu her Master’s in Piano Performance AND Literature, but her incredible drive took her to another level yet.

Over the next four years, Tiiu earned her Doctorate in Piano Performance at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbour.

The effort behind that is completely unfathomable to most.

While I’ve never heard the humble Tiiu refer to herself as Doctor Tiiu Hammer, that’s exactly who she is and what she has accomplished!

Since earning her Doctorate, Tiiu has worked in a myriad of places across Canada.

For ten years Tiiu was on-staff as an Artist in Residence at Grand Prairie Regional College in Alberta that provided innumerable opportunities for teaching, travelling, and performing.

She also lived in Edmonton for seven years working as a music examiner, utilizing her piano skills as a freelancing musician, adjudicating music festivals, and she even put her Literature degree to work as the Music Critic for the Edmonton Journal.

Life on the prairies was eventually replaced by a one-year Artist in Residence opportunity at Brock University in St. Catharines.

Tiiu also lived for 20 years in Burlington where she had her own teaching studio working mainly with intermediate and advanced piano students.

My first encounter with Tiiu was at one of Gavin Warren’s clarinet recitals where she was simply a member of the audience. Since then, Tiiu has been on the piano bench demonstrating her immense piano skills in Gavin’s recitals.

I once wrote a column expressing my thoughts about those who accompany soloists. “Accompanists” rarely receive the adulation and respect that they deserve.

Yes, they are there in a support role for a featured soloist, but their music is usually extremely demanding, and sometimes even more difficult than that of the soloist!

They too are compelled to put in significant hours practicing for a performance and additionally, must also have both the technical and listening skills to “save” a soloist who encounters a problem.

Interestingly, Tiiu told me that in most Universities, piano players are no longer referred to as “accompanists” but instead, as “collaborative pianists” a moniker that I believe is more accurate and deserved.

While teaching in her studio in Burlington, Tiiu eventually found the adrenaline rush of performing slowly replaced by the adrenaline rush of….. skydiving.

Incredibly, Tiiu hasn’t just jumped out of an airplane a few times but has over 1400 jumps to her credit!

After learning about Tiiu’s amazingly rich life, my question had to be, “why Wallaceburg”?

Her answer was simple. She loves to kayak and both the abundance and serenity of the waters that surround us make this a wonderful place to live. To those who’ve lived here for many years, don’t ever lose sight of that fact, or take it for granted.

Why does it often take someone from “outside” to recognize the beauty of this place?

Whether jumping from an airplane or up on the concert stage, we have what I would call a “giant talent living amongst us” and I wish everyone could meet Tiiu.

She is a wonderful, humble, human being and an asset to our community.

And while you can’t really watch Tiiu jump from an airplane, you can catch her amazing piano skills at Gavins next recital on May 31 st at the Christian Reformed Church at 7 p.m.

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