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Angela Gillis taught music in Saskatoon elementary schools for 20 years. Her husband, Glen Gillis, has created a memorial scholarship in her name. (Submitted photo)

Scholarship created in memory of Saskatoon music educator

Angela Gillis dedicated her career to music, encouraging children to take an early interest in the subject


By Kristen McEwen

Reaching into a clear plastic bin sitting on his desk, University of Saskatchewan (USask) music professor Dr. Glen Gillis (BMusEd’79, PhD) pulled out a photo of his late wife, Angela Heigham Gillis.

The photo featured Angela in her 20s, around the time she was attending university, dressed in coveralls and a beaming smile. 

Angela Gillis
Angela Gillis loved travelling and exploring the world. (Submitted photo)

“She was always very perky,” Glen said. “Always thinking-of-others type of person.”

Angela suddenly died at 58 years old in January this year. When Angela passed, Glen wanted to honour her wishes and her memory. She became an organ donor. Three individuals were recipients of Angela’s donation.

Glen and their daughter, Nicole, also decided to create a scholarship in memory of Angela, who dedicated her career to music education.

“(Starting the scholarship) was another way for me to have her live on in some way ... she was my partner,” Glen said. “My daughter and I decided that we need to do this for her, it’s not about us.”

The Angela Heigham Gillis Memorial Scholarship was established to recognize academic excellence and demonstrated talents in musical performance and student teaching of students pursuing a degree program in Music Education.

The scholarship started with an initial gift of $27,000, with additional donations being welcomed into the fund. The scholarship is also endowed in perpetuity.

The first $1,000 scholarship will be awarded in the 2024-25 academic year.

Glen and Angela shared a common interest — music education. The pair met in Missouri. Glen had left Canada to pursue his master's degree at Northwestern University and then went on to pursue his PhD in curriculum and instruction at the University of Missouri. Meanwhile, Angela was working towards her master’s degree of Music in Music Education.

“Music was her passion too,” Glen said. “Her mom is a music teacher. (Angela) was just a natural teacher.”

Angela and Glen Gillis
Angela and Glen Gillis pose for a photo during a trip. (Submitted photo)

Born in New Jersey, Angela mostly grew up in Missouri. Her family moved to Blue Springs, MO. and later to Moberly, MO.

Angela had been surrounded by music her entire life. Her mother was a piano and music teacher. Angela began piano in elementary school, sang, and started her instrument of choice — French horn — when she was in junior high school.

During high school and university, Angela worked odd jobs at various hardware stores and volunteered at a medical centre.

“She was very visual—in the sense of a visual learner,” he said. “She also worked for a contracting company. She could look at a blueprint and figure stuff out real quick. For a high-rise six-story commercial building, she had to account for every hinge, all the hardware for doors, including screws.”

Angela’s area of focus for music education was the Orff Approach. This teaching method, the Orff-Shulwerk, or Music for Children, was named after German composer Carl Orff. The method is based on the theory that instructors should put children first — drawing out inherent, natural abilities to follow rhythm and melodies. A less structured approach, the Orff pedagogy encourages improvisation and the use of percussion instruments.

The pair got married and eventually moved to Lawton, OK, where Glen spent five years as the Director of Bands at Cameron University. In Oklahoma, Angela taught music at an elementary school, where she became a “powerhouse,” Glen said.

Angela never looked for attention but expected excellence from her students in her classroom.

“She always put on these big productions for the schools, elementary schools around Christmas time and Easter time. She always did so much extra stuff outside of school time,” he said.

When Glen received a job offer to teach at USask, his alma mater, Angela was excited at the prospect of travelling and exploring a bit more of the world. She jumped at the chance to move to Canada with her husband.

“(Angela) had as much to do with me coming back here, then it was a no-brainer to come back. She was the one that said, ‘Let’s do it.’ Even though she had a good job... she had power in Lawton, OK, with her elementary school program. And then this (job) popped up.”

Angela Gillis
Angela Gillis poses holding Mjolnir, the hammer of the Norse thunder god, Thor.

“She was adventurous that way,” he added. “She liked to travel.”

During their 30-year marriage, they travelled to various places including, Scotland, England, France, Greece, Netherlands, Mediterranean, Croatia, Iceland and Hawaii. They would sometimes take the opportunity after work conferences to take a few extra days to explore.

“Like yin and yang, we worked well together,” Glen said. “She was the one with a glass half-full always, and balanced.”

When the pair lived in Canada, Glen said that Angela adjusted well to the frigid winters, despite coming from a warmer climate.

“It’s interesting,” he said. “She adjusted better than me and I lived here my whole life. But after spending 11 years in the States, I got used to that (weather), and (I was) starting to like January. But coming back, she’s better at adjusting than me. She was quite an individual.”

In Saskatoon, Angela continued teaching music in several elementary schools in the public school system. Over the past 20 years, she also taught elementary music education classroom instrument courses at the USask Department of Music. Angela was an active member of the Saskatchewan Chapter of Carl Orff Canada, and many other music organizations in the province.

Glen described his wife as a great mom to their daughter. Angela was generous; she was a conscientious recycler, an environmentalist and active in advocating for human rights. She loved dogs, had a green thumb, and was an excellent cook and baker.

She was humble, and never sought out accolades, Glen said. “She was a leader in lots of ways.”

Glen and Nicole will be hosting a celebration of life in Angela’s memory in June, when more of her family will be able to attend, travelling from the United States.

In lieu of flowers, Gillis asked that individuals donate to the Saskatchewan Chapter of Carl Orff Canada to help teachers in the province wanting to pursue Orff level courses.

Until the celebration of life, they decided to keep the house as it was since Angela decorated it for Christmas in December.

“(Angela) loved Christmas time, and she liked decorating the house, the tree. It was her big thing,” he said. “Detail was important—even how she taught everything. Making sure everything was about the students, it wasn’t about her.”

Gillis family photo
From left: Glen, Nicole, Angela, and their dog pose for a family photo. (Submitted photo)

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