Achy Breaky Heart


It is always illuminating when the butterfly that emerges from the chrysalis turns out to be a creature quite different from our expectations. We thought we knew her well.

Margaret Skinner teaches Mathematics in the Senior School. Her students think of her as demanding and exacting, perhaps impatient with them if they ever settle for less than their best. She was recognized by Cornell University several years ago, in a special ceremony there, as an outstanding teacher for her influence on one of our grads who became one of that university’s top students. Margaret is also an accomplished pianist. She plays the music for Senior Chapel; she has performed with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra; and although it may not have been the pinnacle of her musical career, a few years ago she accompanied the staff chorus in its rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. When she won a Headmaster’s Professional Development Award for Teaching Excellence several years ago she chose to spend the money on organ lessons- the organ being an instrument most of us would have said she had already mastered.

You get the picture, I am sure: a very accomplished practitioner in those two related fields, Music and Mathematics, with a bent that one would definitely call “highbrow.”

This weekend is Valentine’s Day. It has become a bit of a tradition to mark the occasion with a staff performance. This year Margaret has assembled an impressive and comprehensive collection of staff, in fact the largest group ever. As usual, we signed up secure in the expectation that her musical choice would add a bit of tone to our proceedings, and possibly even elevate us in the eyes of students who may not always put their teachers on pedestals. The consequence of our blind faith is “Achy Breaky Heart”, a song most of us had never heard before, although we had heard of it – and now that we have learned it, we aren’t sure of our capacity to rescue it from oblivion, although we are giving it a good try. Only the future can tell. For the past week and a half about fifty staff have been learning the line-dance moves, the music and the words (the term “lyrics” here would be a misnomer). By the end of our rehearsal today, we seemed ready for the footlights – or at least for Monday’s performance at Senior School Assembly.

So: there is a corner in Margaret’s music library we never knew about: Country and Western, the land where dogs are true but men and women aren’t, and a man’s best friend is his truck. And for those of you who might feel generous, there is a hole in her library that Margaret is eager to fill but shy about advertising: the collected works of Billy Ray Cyrus.



  1. Absolutely phenomenal (and hysterical!!)

    Our children are indeed, “privileged”, to have you all as their mentors, educators and supporters. Thank you for your dedication to the “arts” with this outstanding performance (especially the choreographed “lift”)

    Well done!!

  2. Most impressive! You have provided us with a glimpse of what makes St. Michael’s University School and so many other Canadian independent schools such engaging places for students.

    It also brought back so many many fond memories of past student assemblies.

    Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Dr. Paul W. Bennett
    Halifax, Nova Scotia

  3. WOW! Bravo SMUS faculty!
    What coordination…what style…what moves!
    Those SMUS students sure are lucky have such fine entertainment as a part of their assemblies! It’s a rare thing you’ve got going on….one of the many reasons why SMUS is such a special place.
    Kathryn Humphries `03


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