“Make it work,” is a phrase that was used in the Fallis’ household. If there was a problem, people talked it through and negotiated. People didn’t leave the table upset and not speaking to each other. If each of us lived that phrase, we would have less problems in our world today. When Lois Fallis said those words, I really heard what she had to say because I often get upset because I feel like I am not being heard, and I am referring to professional situations as well. It’s my responsibility to make sure that I have a voice at the table. How about you, do you make it work?
Lois Fallis is over 80 years old, so there is much that we can learn from her. After you have read her interview, what are some things that you found surprising? And what can you learn from her experiences? I will publish Part II of the interview tomorrow.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
We had quite a large family, and this was after the Second World War (World War II), and many people were having large families at that point. I was one of two children, and my brother was killed in the Second World War so I became an only child in a way. I had a great deal of music instruction in my life because my mom was an organist and choir leader, and I had singing and piano lessons from her. As I became older I developed that, and one of my major jobs in life was being a musician. I have six children, three boys and three girls.
Now that you are retired, what’s a typical day like for you?
I spend more time reading The Globe and Mail (Canada’s National Newspaper) than I used to. I sleep in a little longer, I used to get up at 6:00 am, now it’s more like 8:00 am. My typical day is a little difficult because I live outside of the Greater Toronto Area, in a little place called Bond Head so I’m often driving to Bond Head from Toronto because I have a lot of friends there, and four of my children live there. It’s a lot of driving back and forth, and I have been doing that for quite a few years because I have been living in Bond Head for thirty-something years. My community is quite large.
How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
I have always loved taking courses. I’ve always sung in choirs, I was a soprano soloist. I love books and book clubs and now I’m in a seniors walking club and we are all getting a bit older now. I notice that some of the members in the walking club are using walkers, and we never did that before.
Reflecting back on your life, if you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
I guess looking back I don’t know if I would have married quite so soon after I finished university. Again it had a lot to do with the war and my husband was in the Air Force, came home and started his medical training. And I think there were many pressures that would come to one then, and now I think it would have been better if I had a job and did something else rather than go from university into marriage, and having all those children right away, which really was a wonderful experience too.
Tell me about a challenge you had in life.
This was kind of a silly challenge when I think of it, but long after we were married, Fred wanted to move to the farm which is about 45 miles north of Toronto and I didn’t particularly want to, so it took quite a long time for me to make up my mind that we could do that. I actually started teaching school out there and it made the move alright, and I embraced the community out there.
Most of my children had grown up by then, and being a teacher and having a job, a routine, was helpful for me and made the transition easier.
What lessons did you learn?
It isn’t so bad to make changes, and it’s okay to take risks and try something different because I found that I liked it, and I made so many teacher friends in the music field. I had a new community, and I kept the old one.
Tell me about your big break and who gave you.
The big break is probably in the musical world. I decided that I wanted to do something different so I joined the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir led by conductor Elmer Iseler. By then I had done a lot of singing, and I was asked to be a part of a small professional group that Elmer had that was called the Festival Singers so I was with them for four or five years, then I went into teaching. I had an opportunity to teach Orff music in Toronto schools and I did that half time. I had some help come into the home at that point.
Note: Orff music is a type of music with xylophones and glockenspiels. It was started in Europe and then we brought it to Canada. Orff is named after Carl Orff and is sometimes called Music for Young Children.
Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
It’s kind of funny now, but I went to audition at the Royal Alex for a musical play and I didn’t get it. At the time, I found that awful and the other big failure was when Elmer Iseler wrote me a letter informing me that I wasn’t a part of the choir the following year. He often did this to change the people who were in the choir. That’s when I went off on another tangent. From these failures I learned that life goes on and it’s okay. Failures are a part of life and if you are always rising to the top, you do not learn how to be compassionate. And these experiences made me a better mother, and teacher, especially when I was talking to my students’ parents.
What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?
The very year that I was supposed to go into university, I was going to take another Masters, in Music, and at the same time I had my name in for Teachers’ College and there was no hope that I was going to get into Teachers’ College because apparently there was a long, long list. And, one day before Labour Day, I got a call saying I was able to go to Teachers’ College. So I had this terrible dilemma between taking music and teaching in the schools. I chose teaching in schools because someone told me that I wouldn’t get another chance to teach in schools but I would always have the opportunity to go back to university. That decision made a big change in my life, and of course, at that point we had just moved to the farm and so I had the opportunity to teach in a rural area. I had already taught in Toronto and now I had the opportunity to be a part of the rural scene, which was good.
What are three events that helped to shape your life?
- Getting married to Fred was important and a wonderful experience. He was a young doctor starting out and hadn’t even finished his medical studies, so I was able to help type his medical notes. Two years after we married, our first child Mary Lou came along. He graduated when we had four children, which was quite something and then we added two more children after that.
- My mother was a musician and I’m sure that’s why I became so skilled in music because I had that in my home all the time. I was encouraged to take music and singing.
- The third event was moving to the farm in Bond Head, which opened up another community for me.
What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
My six children, they are all wonderful and they are all very different, and it keeps me busy going around to whatever they are doing. And now with the grandchildren I’m going to plays, concerts, and driving them here and there, so I’m busy.
How did mentors influence your life?
I guess a lot. I remember some of the teachers in high school that I just loved. I was in the Glee Club, and the teacher encouraged me to focus on music. Aunt Lily, a relative of Fred’s who was a missionary in China, was one of those people who was absolutely wonderful and did not judge anyone. She accepted you just as you were. I always appreciated that. She was just a wonderful woman.
What’s one core message you received from your mentors?
That I was okay and a good person. I was encouraged to go on and develop confidence in myself.
As an Invisible Mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?
Be yourself, develop your skills and do not take no for an answer. There is always a way. I have had quite a privileged life and I realize that some people don’t, so it’s important to embrace others and encourage them. I have always been supportive of my children and grandchildren and encouraged them in what they did and I believe that I still do that.