Norm Abbey went back to school after retirement to pursue his love of music. He performs with Malaspina Choir at the Port Theatre Nov. 13.

Musician finally follows dream

Norm Abbey returns to school to earn the music degree he wanted as a young adult

By Kathryn-Jane Hazel

In 1963 University of B.C. student Norm Abbey had to make a tough decision.  Would he major in science or music?

He chose science, and sold his French horn to help pay for his tuition.

“David Suzuki was still teaching at UBC then and biology and molecular genetics were at a pretty interesting stage,” he said.

But music remained a passion. He sang in the Malaspina Choir for almost 20 years, belonged to a Nanaimo Conservatory of Music recorder group, and was a founding member of a brass quintet, the Nob Hill Brass, named after the neighbourhood where he lived and the group rehearsed.

Now retired, and at age 65 able to attend university classes for free, he decided to get the music degree he had to leave behind almost 50 years ago, and is enrolled full-time in the music program at Vancouver Island University – and he’s loving it.

He does face challenges as a senior student, he said.

“Time-management, staying healthy to keep up with the work load, and trying to learn jazz on a French horn – now that’s a minority,” he said.

A dedicated cyclist – the members of the Nob Hill Brass were known for their avoidance of the automobile, arriving at concert venues by boat, pedal-kayak, and bicycle, instruments in tow – he takes the bus uphill to VIU and then rides downhill back home.

He discovered that he’s not alone as a member of the baby boomer set attending university, as there are at least two or three mature students in most of his classes, and he finds that an interesting shift in student demographics.

“The majority of the young and international people in my classes are, of course, very refreshing and energizing,” he said.  “I am impressed with their musical abilities, including the first-year students right out of high school.”

A special pleasure for him has been singing with the Cantabile Chamber Choir, made up of students from the music department.  They are joining the Malaspina Choir in a performance of the Fauré Requiem at the Port Theatre Nov. 13.

Abbey sang the Fauré Requiem when he was a member of the Malaspina Choir.

“I like his requiem better every time I hear it,” he said. “I’m not really able to say why though, precisely other than ‘I like it’.”

Composer Gabriel Fauré wrote his requiem between 1887 and 1890 and it is one of the most recognized.

The Malaspina Choir performs the requiem, plus other French favourites with the Cantabile Choir and musicians from the Vancouver Island Symphony at the Port Theatre Nov. 13 at 2 p.m.

Tickets $25; $15/students. Please call 250-754-8550 or visit

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