He has been called “one of the greatest music educators of our time” by Jean Ashworth Bartle, founder and conductor laureate of the Toronto Children’s Chorus, one of several high profile supporters nominating him for an Order of Ontario.
In his 30 years at Northlea Mitch Bondy has continually won awards for the elementary and middle school’s choirs.
Unfortunately this is the last school year for Bondy at Northlea. He is retiring.
“Literally thousands of children have been given an appreciation of music they otherwise might not have experienced,” says Leaside resident Earl Barnsley.
One of them, he says, was Matt Selby, son of NHL hockey player Brit Selby, a Leaside resident. The younger Selby turned to a career in musical theatre because of his time at Northlea.
“He attributes all of his interest in music to Mitch,” says Barnsley, a member of various performing arts boards and volunteer groups, including the National Ballet. “We just have so much admiration for what he’s done for the kids, the parents and grandparents at Northlea.
“I don’t know what the magic is, but Mitch Bondy has always known how to get children interested, especially the boys. I’ve never known anyone with such an innate ability to bring out such an honest sound from young voices.” He has watched that happen to his own two kids, and more recently, granddaughter Carlee Deemoe.
“Our granddaughter simply adored him,” says his wife Liz.
For years Northlea choirs have been winning festivals at major Toronto venues such as Roy Thomson Hall, Massey Hall, and the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts.
The Junior Choir (grades 5 & 6) has consistently won the William B. Rothwell Trophy for best overall elementary school choral singing at Toronto’s annual Kiwanis Music Festival.
The choir has been twice awarded the $2,000 Ed Bolsby School Showcase Award for Elementary Schools, the Elmer Iseler Best Choir Award and in 2008, first prize from the Federation of Canadian Music Festivals.
Beyond competition, Bondy says he views music as key to community and emotional wellbeing.
“In our age of individualism,” he says, “music gives children the sense that the whole is greater than the individual, that being in community is huge. Great music also captures emotion and teaches how to be fully in touch with what you’re feeling.”
Displayed outside his door is a poster that reads: “The fact that children make beautiful music is less significant than the fact that music makes children beautiful.”
Bondy says he is also particularly thankful for the Leaside community: “I’ve always felt a very special bond with Northlea parents, who have always been so incredibly supportive. They would say, ‘Tell us what we need to do to help you,’ whether it was providing an accompanist, supervising a trip, financing an event.”
Bondy is a scholarship graduate of the University of Western Ontario, the Banff School of Fine Arts and the Royal College of Music in London, England. He holds a Master of Education degree from the University of Toronto and an Honours Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Western Ontario.
In addition to his work at Northlea, he has also been director of the East York Youth Choir, assistant conductor of the Toronto Children’s Chorus, and conductor of the Choirs Ontario Children’s Choir Camp.
Where he goes now is unsure, but Bondy knows that it will most likely continue to involve choirs and, of course, music.
Pausing several times to collect his emotions, and his voice, Mitch Bondy accepted the accolades of friends, parents, students, and colleagues at his retirement party at Northlea school on June 17.
Over 250 people filled the gymnasium to watch a video retrospective of Bondy’s life, sign farewell banners, and to honour the beloved choir master of 30 years. As a tribute to Bondy, a bursary has been established in his name with the Kiwanis Music Festival.
Performing at the retirement party to enthusiastic applause was the Alumni Choir composed of present and past students of Bondy’s. After singing for the former choir master, students embraced him with genuine respect and affection, not to mention, tears.