The Kids are Alright

Submitted by Josh Grossman on Thu Mar 8 4:24pm

This time of year is always busy here at jazz fest headquarters, as we aim to lock in the Festival's remaining ticketed shows and finalize the budgets required to unleash a serious programming campaign (I'll have over 130 free shows to book - at least - over the next eight weeks). It's bound to be an action-packed month as we announce more shows, ramp up our publicity and figure out the substantial jigsaw puzzle that is the free show lineups. I'm feeling excited, though, if a little harried - we've got some great names to reveal and, taking a look through the submissions, you're going to hear some outstanding music for free.

February also tends to be Music Festival month, and this year I was honoured to adjudicate three different events. And while there are some serious challenges facing music education at the elementary and secondary school levels, the talent on display over the past few weeks was evidence that there is still amazing music being made by kids of all ages.

First up was the inaugural A Cappella Challenge put on by the North Metro Chorus (the 2018 Sweet Adelines International Chorus Champions, don't you know). The evening featured eight ensembles, ranging from vocal quartet to 50-voice choir, from ages 8 to 30 (ish), performing interpretations of classic a cappella repertoire, jazz standards and pop tunes. Helping to sort out the scoring were Heather Bambrick and Scott Pietrangelo; after all was said and done it was a high school ensemble which took the top prize - but so impressed were us judges by the various performances that it actually came down to a tie-breaker! Congratulations to all of the participating ensembles, and to North Metro Chorus for creating what I hope will be an annual event.

I then spent two days in Hamilton with the Golden Horseshoe Music Festival, adjudicating jazz ensembles from grades 6 to 12. These were long days - nine hours of adjudicating on the second day, and that's after the hour and forty minute drive - but satisfying: at this Festival, adjudicators either write or record their comments, and then get to work with an ensemble for 20 or so minutes in a clinic setting. While the performance quality varied, the enthusiasm of the students did not - whether on stage or in the clinic room, these young musicians demonstrated an excitement for what they were doing, and an interest in soaking up feedback. (And - getting to work with other adjudicators like Pat Collins, Russ Weill and Heather Bambrick was pretty okay too.)

Finally, I did two days with the Kiwanis Music Festival, where I heard students in grades 6, 7 and 8 perform in jazz band settings. This might be the most challenging age with which to work when it comes to teaching jazz. For students without a lot of experience on their instruments, and varying grasps on basic musical concepts, the concepts of swing and improvisation can be particularly abstract. So I was truly impressed with all of the playing, especially when some of these young students stood up to take improvised solos. It's nerve-wracking enough to improvise a solo, never mind doing so in front of a bunch of strangers and some weird guy taking notes the whole time.

I came away feeling energized by these adjudicating opportunities. I enjoyed the energy on display by the students, but also the passion with which they were led by their teachers. We've got lots of work to do to ensure youth become engaged with and excited by listening to, learning about and performing music. But if what I saw and heard is any indication, we've got some of the right conditions in place to make it happen.


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