CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Con Zaat has found many ways to package the gift of music on Prince Edward Island.
After moving from Holland in 1955 to Camp Borden, Ont., with his late wife Jean, where he began a nine-year run in a military band, he made his way to P.E.I. to teach music.
During a nearly 30-year period, Zaat was a music teacher in several Island schools, including Montague Regional High School, Cardigan Consolidated, Bluefield High School, Vernon River Consolidated and Southern Kings Consolidated.
He retired in 1995 from a lengthy, rewarding career teaching students how to play instruments and embrace music. He can think of a dozen or so of his former students who have gone on to careers in music.
Zaat says he particularly enjoyed the enthusiasm of young music students.
The end of his days teaching music in Island schools, however, did not stop the music from flowing from the now 85-year-old Winsloe resident.
He switched gears from bringing music to the young, to bringing it to the not-so-young.
He channelled his musical talents into the role of choral director, including directing a 34-piece all-male chorus and band, performing everything from fiddle tunes to Dixieland, during his years wintering in Florida.
Zaat lost his beloved wife Jean in 2009 after 53 years of marriage.
He determinedly took on the role of devoted caregiver when Jean was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2006.
Both he and Jean spoke candidly in an interview with The Guardian a decade ago on how they were leaning on love and determination to deal head-on with the gradual, painful separation dictated by this disease.
Corrine Hendricken-Eldershaw, chief executive officer of the Alzheimer Society of P.E.I., noted at the time the Zaats were a model couple making the most of an ongoing challenge.
“I would have to say in terms of families that I’ve worked with that the greatest gift of Con and Jean is their ability to deal with it,’’ she said.
“So, from the time of diagnosis they didn’t stay in denial too long. They moved into action.’’
Zaat saw music as therapy for Jean and many others as he made his way into one nursing home after another on P.E.I. spreading cheer by performing.
“I like working with the senior people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, trying to put a spark in their life,’’ he says.
“It has always been my belief that we can communicate with people that are fairly advanced with Alzheimer’s and dementia and things like that.’’
Age is now catching up to Zaat.
He will be moving in with his son Steve in New Brunswick the first of October.
So, he is wrapping up more than 40 years of musical gifts to Prince Edward Island. He will not stop giving, though.
He has already started playing piano in a manor in New Brunswick and he plans to continue to do so as long as he is able.
Playing music, he realizes, is not only a gift to others.
“It keeps me active, it keeps my mind occupied,’’ he says.
“It keeps me alert and it keeps me happy.’’