Mentoring encourages young people to:
- Dream big, but also recognize personal abilities and limitations
- Set realistic goals
- Increase personal motivation
- Gain a fresh perspective
- Improve communication skills
- Recognize the benefits of persistence, self-discipline, and sustained effort
By using this approach, the VYF Musical Mentorship Program succeeds in fostering exceptional musical (indeed, many alumni have gone on to professional musical careers), but also lays the foundations of maturity and confidence necessary for the group’s collective aims including meaningful contributions to community well-being (for example, the group plays regularly at a local seniors’ facility), memorable performances (VYF performs at a range of community functions such as Fall Fair, and the Midsummer Music Festival), and tours (across British Columbia with “Fiddlers History of Canada”).
Goal: mature, confident youth who contribute to community well being
In order to be effective, formal mentorship requires a well-designed program with goals, training and evaluation. The VYF Musical Mentorship Program has been refined and developed over the past 16 years, and includes the following components:
- Coaching Activities
- Visiting Artist Activities
- Outreach Activities
For the past 16 years, the Valley Youth Fiddlers have used volunteer-based coaching as the foundation of its Musical Mentorship Program. Coaching Activities are coordinated by the Music Director, Leslie-Jean MacMillan. MacMillan contributes a tremendous amount of time and energy into making the program successful, and for this she receives a very modest stipend of $2000. This sum is largely symbolic given the huge contributions that MacMillan makes to the program. MacMillan also recruits volunteer coaches from the local music community including drummers, pianists and guitarists, who guide beginner, novice and advance players through an ever-changing repertoire. At times the group all plays together as a single ensemble, but equally often in smaller groups or with individual musicians as required. Many of the coaches are alumni from the Valley Youth Fiddlers.
Coaching occurs on an ongoing basis throughout the year during weekly practices and at seasonal workshops, but it also involves considerable behind-the-scenes coordinating. Responsibilities include recording practice tunes, posting music onto the web, transcribing arrangements, planning and leading weekly practices, collaborating with visiting mentors, liaising with other fiddle groups, and planning future outreach activities, performances, and tours. It is a significant commitment which often precludes involvement with other community groups or activities; however, it is also core to the success of the VYF Musical Mentorship Program.
Without volunteer coaches, the Valley Youth Fiddlers would not be able to play the significant role it does in the community. VYF provides opportunities for local musicians and VYF alumni to make significant contributions to the development of young musicians in a coordinated way. Often, a musical community possesses talent but lacks a cohesive approach to keeping young musicians engaged. VYF connects experienced professional musicians to a large number of young musicians who are just beginning their musical journeys. The coaches work together in a consistent and coordinated manner to integrate new members, teach new repertoire and polish pieces. Other music groups in the region look to VYF as a model for how to create connections with their community, and quickly realize that a volunteer coaching forms the fundamental first step.
Because many volunteer coaches assist with the baseline organization of the group, the Music Director is able to take on community outreach projects that she could not manage otherwise. In keeping with VYF's commitment to strengthening community, a spirit of generosity is fostered and encouraged among members. This generosity is evident in the number of community events that the VYF contributes to free-of- charge, to lend its infectious enthusiasm and youthful spirit. Any event involving VYF is destined to send everyone home with big smiles on their faces and in their hearts. In fact, VYF is highly sought after as a Community Ambassador, often playing at events, for example the Canadian National Ski Cross Championships hosted in Smithers.
Community support for VYF is clearly evident. Year-after-year there are many requests for VYF to play at local community functions and activities.
Among the community performances by VYF in 2015:
- January to December 2015 - Monthly concerts at the Bulkley Lodge seniors’ facility
- January 2015 - Public concert of music called “Truffles” composed by the young musicians from YVF
- March 2015 - National Ski-Cross Championship awards ceremony performance
- June 2015 - Year end Finale at the Old Church performance hall
- July 2015 - Main stage performance at the Midsummer Music Festival
- December 2015 - Christmas performances at Bulkley Lodge, Main Street Christmas Celebration (outdoors and minus 18 Celsius!) and at the Rotary Club’s Santa’s Breakfast for children and their families (indoors!)
The parents and friends of VYF contribute considerable “in kind” donations worth many thousands of dollars. At the most fundamental level, community support is evident in steadily increasing enrolment in fiddle lessons among all segments of the local population.
Visiting Artist Activities
In 2000, the Valley Youth Fiddlers Musical Mentorship Program took a significant step forward by looking outside the community for guidance and inspiration. Music Director, Leslie-Jean MacMillan initiated this activity because she felt the group would benefit from exposure to professional musicians from other parts of British Columbia and Canada. VYF began indentifying and approaching master fiddlers, and then raising the necessary funds to bring them to the Bulkley Valley for intensive musical development workshops. These Visiting Artists have included nationally renowned fiddlers Daniel Lapp, Oliver Schroer, Gordon Stobbe, Jerry Holland, Ivonne Hernandez, Jenny Lester, Jean Paul Loyer, Dean Marshall, Byron Myhre, ￼Corbin Keep, Adrian Dolan, April Verch, James Stephens, Jaron Freeman-Fox, and Emilyn Stam (the latter two are VYF alumni).
Over the past 16 years, Visiting Artists have:
- Taught new tunes and arrangements in individual, small group, large group, and ensemble settings
- Worked withh individuals to improve skill and knowledge of both traditional and new music
- Taught music composition to young composers
- Composed and arranged original music specifically for the VYF to perform
- Provided performance coaching
In addition, Visiting Artists have helped build a “knowledge bank” of many fiddle tunes that older members later pass down to newer members through internal collaboration. In this manner, the benefits from one visit last for many years. VYF members also learn musicianship, performance and stage presence through their exposure to professional musicians. In a remote, predominately rurual region, this is an invaluable experience. Exposure to professionals at an early age has also helped VYF alumni begin their own professional careers in music.
Visiting Artists has had a profound impact on the community because VYF always coordinates a Community Lessons Series to coincide with an artist's visit. Over the years, countless members of the community have taken advantage of the opportunity for music instruction from the highly regarded professional musicians that have come to mentor with the VYF. This has contributed to the growth and development of many musicians in the region, who would otherwise be unable to access such high calibre instruction in a northern community without considerable personal expense including travel to a major centre.
“I believe the whole Smithers community is energized by this process and I also feel the same way. I think this project was successful because it was responsive to the community's needs and abilities…” —Oliver Schroer, Master Fiddler
There has been a measurable increase in the interest in traditional music in the region (reflected in the growing membership in the ValleyYouth Fiddlers). In addition, the opportunity to connect with a professional musician is also taken up by local music groups and organizations who garner invaluable professional advice and networking opportunities. Again, this opportunity is rare in a northern community and serves to inspire and elevate the entire arts community.
Visiting Artists must orchestrate pieces to accommodate the very wide range of playing ability and age range. These arrangements must have extremely simple parts for beginning fiddlers, but must also include a number of other parts, increasing in difficulty, to accommodate the abilities of older fiddlers who play melody and harmony. In addition, Visiting Artists must also arrange parts for the VYF back-up band, made up of siblings, parents and friends playing a range of instruments including guitar, mandolin, cello, piano, percussion and drums. In addition to working with VYF, the Visiting Artist provides a series of private or small group lessons for local musicians and members of dthe community
In 2016 and 2017, the Outreach Activities in the VYF Musical Mentorship Program will include workshops and community collaborations that will be used to advance the production of a touring musical performance similar to the past production of “Fiddling Around the World”.
Of the three facets of the Musical Mentorship Program, the community benefit is perhaps most obvious with our Outreach Activity. First off, the event provides an excellent opportunity for local fiddlers and other musicians to participate in an intense, focused effort to learn new tunes and techniques. This opportunity to come together annually breathes new life into the local music community and everyone benefits. Add to that the opportunity for local people to learn from some of the top Celtic, traditional, Old Time, and folk musicians in Canada, for a minimal cost, and the community benefit becomes even clearer. Still better for the community, however, is the fact that fiddlers and musicians from across BC also attend Outreach Activities, providing an opportunity to showcase the the community and all it offers. And lastly, for each musician travelling to the Bulkley Valley to participate, often 2 or 3 other family members accompany them. This influx of people represents a significant economic impact on the local economy. Community benefit—definitely. Outreach Activities has been very much in evidence over the years, including monetary donations from local businesses (such as recently given by the local Credit Union and Health Food store), but also generous in-kind donations brought forward during a fund-raising auction in April which generated additional financial support. And the VYF Outreach Activities have also been a source of support for various community initiatives, including “fiddling in” exchange students and other official visitors at the regional airport.
We continually field inquiries about the next workshop or mentoring event, and have a high caliber group of musical professionals who have a terrific working relationship with the community and our organization. This includes young and up- and-coming professionals such as the Fitzgerald family (Julie, Tom and Kerry Fitzgerald, otherwise known as “Everything Fitz”), and the sensational young bassist Madeline Lough (also a VYF alumni).