National Youth Orchestra of Canada: Mindful of the future

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

For the second summer in a row, the National Youth Orchestra of Canada will do without certain elements that might seem indispensable for an orchestral training program. A tour, for example, or performances under a conductor. 

And for the second summer in a row, the venerable institution – alumni of which constitute 40 percent of professional musicians playing in orchestras in Canada – is making the best of the situation by stressing the digital side of cultivating a career.

“Operating a USB microphone, using a video camera, lighting and acoustics,” are some of the subjects mentioned by Kate Eccles, NYO communications director, as components of the 2021 program, which runs from June 12 to Aug. 21. “Learning to be producers of online content as well as players.”

While 16-to-28-year-olds are generally well briefed in the basics of social media, they might not have refined their self-promotional skills as musicians. “How can I use these tools to be entrepreneurial and reach audiences?” Eccles asks, rhetorically. “How do I do a social-media plan for myself?”

In keeping with the latest technological imperatives, NYO participants will be outfitted with microphones and headphones as part of their scholarship package. Online transmission of one-on-one sessions and master classes will be accomplished on a custom platform designed by Aeyons, an Australian software firm that specializes in music.

Not all the NYO instruction this summer falls under the aegis of Tech 101. Grant application is increasingly a fact of musical life. One session will be dedicated to this process, which Eccles characterizes as “an art form unto itself.”

Gregory Oh, a pianist and artistic director with a contemporary outlook, leads a class called The Unboxing Ring, in which the “inner creative” of participants is uncovered through conversations about how art functions. “We’ve never had the luxury of enough time in session for those sorts of things,” Eccles comments.

Former rugby star and Concordia graduate Sommer Christie leads sessions on maintaining calm under pressure, notably in auditions; while crossover conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser lectures on recent changes in the orchestral sector and how they affect entry-level musicians.

Clarinetist, performance psychology researcher and NYO alumna Christine Carter discusses motivation and optimal learning. Psychotherapist and social worker Matthew Eldridge leads sessions on coping with COVID-19, mindfulness for musicians and building a balanced life outside music. He is also available for personal consultations.

After a three-year pilot program, mental health is now a fixture of NYO training. “There is a large body of research indicating that musicians – all musicians – are prone to mental-health issues, especially as related to stress,” Eccles says. “For our young people this is especially true because they carry the archetype of giftedness.

“On the one hand they’re disciplined and talented. But because of their age they are emotionally vulnerable. And they have got into a world-leading youth orchestra that is a gateway to the profession they’ve dreamed of all their lives. Often their parents are highly invested in this as well.”

The Halifax-based J and W Murphy Foundation supports the NYO mental-health program, with input from the Al & Malka Green Artists’ Health Centre at Toronto Western Hospital. Harassment and addiction are among the topics not considered off limits.

Fear not. Traditional tutorials and master classes are still offered. Indeed, the roster of teachers in 2021 is more wide-ranging than usual, thanks to the long-distance links made possible by digital technology.

American and European masters are available to the students as well as Canadian stalwarts like violinists Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan, concertmasters of the TSO and OSM, respectively. Among the international teachers are violist Hartmut Rohde (Germany), clarinetist Afendi Yusuf (Ethiopia), harpist Anneleen Lenaerts (Belgium) and cellist Hans Jørgen Jensen (Denmark).

Stephen Rose, principal second violin of the Cleveland Orchestra, and Elaine Douvas, principal oboe of the Metropolitan Opera are among the American luminaries. Another notable is Sarah Willis, the American-born British hornist who in 2001 became the first female brass player to gain a position in the Berlin Philharmonic.

Student enrolment is expanded from 100 to 133. “We thought, if we are going to do all this, [we should]offer it to as many qualified people as we could,” Eccles says, referring to the digital programming. Now there is discussion of making online resources accessible in 2022 to music students who are not yet ready to join the orchestra.

“One of our long-term goals is to encourage more young people from more diverse backgrounds to feel welcome at NYO and make that leap to auditioning,” Eccles says. “We believe there are young people out there who are really talented and just need encouragement. Some of them aren’t confident. They don’t audition because they think they won’t get in. Maybe they can.”

Another potential expansion is of the NYO calendar year beyond the summer and its usual defining feature, the tour. Digital workshops can happen anytime. Or anywhere.

“We will never replace the in-person experience of an orchestra,” Eccles says. “But there are great international networking opportunities. Now that we’re outfitted to do things digitally we can have a clarinetist in Prague. Or a leading conductor. For that matter, we could have Yo-Yo Ma speak to the students. It really opens it up.”

“We see these young people as Canadian cultural ambassadors. They go on international tours and represent their countries. The more they can build these relationships, the better.”

www.nyoc.org

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

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About Author

Arthur Kaptainis has been a classical music critic since 1986. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Musical Toronto. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto. Since 2019, Arthur is co-editor of La Scena Musicale.

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