Wife, mother, church musician, music teacher par excellence. Born on Feb. 2, 1919, in Swift Current, Sask; died on Nov. 12, 2013, in Calgary, of natural causes, aged 94.
Dorothy Spencer’s musical life began before she started school. The eldest daughter of Gladys and Edward Spencer, a music teacher and performer, her talents flourished under her father’s tutelage. After his sudden passing when Dorothy was seven, she continued with one of his students who had studied at the Juilliard School in New York.
Dorothy loved playing piano as a child, but she recalled how she longed to learn to tap dance with her classmates for a school concert but was not allowed to because her teacher insisted that she provide the musical accompaniment. At 15, she began working as an organist and junior choir leader in Metropolitan United Church in Swift Current, Sask. She won multiple prizes in music festivals for her solo piano work, her work with the junior choir, and as an accompanist for many performers (including Bobby Gimby, who later wrote the centennial hit song, Canada).
By age 18, Dorothy had her associate degree in piano performance and pedagogy and began teaching music in Swift Current and along the Empress railway line. She was known as “the travelling music teacher,” heading out every Monday to teach piano in towns such as Pennant, Battram, Cabri and Abbey – often returning to Swift Current at week’s end in the caboose of a freight train. Her firm but kind manner helped many young children, and adult students, learn to love music and piano studies.
In 1946, Dorothy went to Abernethy where she worked as the church organist and taught piano students and school music classes. She met a young businessman, J. Wesley Copithorn, and they married in 1947. They soon had three children: Hope, Robert and Marjorie.
Dorothy’s love of music was transmitted to her children; she was their first piano teacher and they grew up studying piano and taking part in bands and choirs. Although she was a classically trained pianist, she also loved to play popular music, especially at social gatherings.
When the family moved to Indian Head, Sask., in 1959, Dorothy worked as an organist, choir director and piano teacher. Two of her greatest joys during those years were the intermediate girls’ choir that she started at St. Andrews United Church, and playing the beautiful pipe organ in the church. She was also a charter member of the Regina chapter of the Royal Canadian College of Organists.
Seeking a drier and milder climate, Dorothy and Wes moved to Taber, Alta., in 1975, where they made many new friends. She continued as a church musician and piano teacher and was especially proud that some of her students went on to become music teachers themselves.
After Wes’s passing in 1987, Dorothy remained in Taber, enjoying a rich community life. In 1997, she moved to Westview Lodge in Calgary to be closer to her children. Once again she used her gifts of music to brighten the lives of the residents. For several years, she led a Westview women’s choir that entertained lodge residents and those from neighbouring retirement communities. At age 90, she moved to a long-term care facility, where she continued to play for Sunday worship until a short time before her passing.
Dorothy loved to visit with family and friends and looked forward to weekends when relatives would gather in her lodge for coffee and a visit. She is greatly missed, not only for her music but also for her kindness and her warm, sunny personality.
Hope-Arlene Fennell is Dorothy’s eldest daughter.