ATA Magazine

Tom Spila: The band plays on

A man wearing glasses dressed in black. The man has white hair and is standing in front of a sky with clouds and the sun. The sky is purple, red, yellow, and orange. This is a digital painting.
Tom Spila

Alberta Government Centennial Medal, 2005
Governor General of Canada Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, 2012
Alberta Band Association Honorary Lifetime Member Award, 2022
Board member for the Alberta Band Association and Choir Alberta

For 44 years, Tom Spila watched his students blossom through their involvement in the music programs he taught. Though now retired, his passion for building confidence and community through music has not dimmed.

In the 1970s, Spila began his teaching career as junior and senior high band teacher in Lac La Biche, where he met his wife, Crystal, also a teacher. A few years later, he landed at Camrose Composite High School (CCHS) and went on to teach there for the next 39 years.

Once at CCHS as the band teacher, Spila envisioned creating a more comprehensive music program for the students. Adding to the school’s existing opportunities, Spila began offering jazz band, honour band, and beginner and advanced guitar courses. With the encouragement of his principal, Spila also started a choral program, including an extracurricular chamber choir, which—being out of his wheelhouse—represented an opportunity for his own growth in music.

“With respect to developing a music program, I think it is important to have a personal philosophy that will underlie every decision you may make,” Spila says. “If you wish to move forward, you can never be satisfied at the moment. There is always much more to learn.”

Not only did Spila dedicate countless hours to building the school’s music program, but he also extended his passion for music education into the community. He founded the Camrose & District Community Band in 1983 and has served as its director for four decades.

“Many musicians stop playing after high school because the opportunity to continue is not available,” Spila says, reflecting on the founding of the community band. “I wanted to provide that opportunity once again. In February of 1983, 13 adult musicians showed up to rehearsal and we have never looked back.”

With some of the original members still playing, the community band has had as many as 65 members, with ages ranging from 18 to 92.

Over the years, Spila has received many accolades for his contributions to Alberta’s music community, including the Alberta Band Association’s first Vondis Miller Legacy Award (2004), the Elkhorn Award for Band Director of the Year (2010) and the Alberta Choral Federation’s Con Spirito Award (2011). When asked about his greatest achievements, though, his thoughts center on the lives he has touched.

“Music groups can provide a safe and caring place for expression and instill a love of music that can continue for life. Being moved by a piece of music demonstrates sensitivity and openness, qualities that are admirable and can be carried into the world outside the band room.”

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Unsung Hero is a space dedicated to honouring ATA members past and present who have had notable achievements, either in the ATA or in their private lives. 

If you know of a member whom you feel should be recognized, please contact section editor Lindsay Yakimyshyn at

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Lindsay Yakimyshyn

Administrative Officer, Government, ATA