Teens visit the County to learn jazz
Patrons sitting in a packed house at the Regent Theatre on Sunday were blown away by young talent and established musicians as they witnessed the culmination of three days’ work from the 2015 TD Jazz Education program.
The program is the brainchild of percussionist and big band leader Brian Barlow, who developed the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival, and Blair Yarranton, a high school music teacher. When Barlow began the festival, he wanted a portion of it to contribute to the community in a meaningful way.
Yarranton, who had watched the music program at Centennial Secondary School in Belleville suffer from cutbacks, suggested a non-competitive program to allow teens the chance to work with professional musicians.
The first year was difficult. With no funding, the program was packed into one day, with students performing in the evening. It was fun, but exhausting, says Yarranton. Then an offer from TD Canada Trust to sponsor the program allowed it to be stretched to two, and now three, days.
This year, students arrived from four high schools—Campbellford District High School, Anderson Collegiate Institute in Whitby, Centennial Secondary School in Belleville and O’Neill Collegiate & Vocational Institute in Oshawa—and spend the weekend at Isaiah Tubbs resort, jamming with each other and learning from the pros.
The non-competitive aspect of the program is very important for both Barlow and Yarranton.
“There’s a lot of competition in music. From Kiwanis right up to the Juno awards, it’s competition. And it shouldn’t be, because you can’t really choose who’s better than somebody else in the arts,” says Barlow. “And so it’s really great to see these kids come, and within five minutes of the first band playing, all the other kids are applauding for them and cheering for the solos. It’s a really nice situation. It also allows us to bring kids of different levels. From grade nine students who, in some cases, have only had their instruments for one school year, to kids who can come and play in this band.”
“I think if it was a competitive environment, they’d feel squashed, and they’d feel totally demoralized,” says Yarranton of the students. “But they hear a better band and they’re inspired. They go and they ask the kids, ‘how long have you been playing?’ And they talk to each other. It really takes down the barriers that, most of the time, competition builds up. It’s awesome to see them do that.”
Some schools return for a second year, which Barlow encourages, but there is a line-up of schools hoping to participate in what is an excellent opportunity for budding musicians. Participants have gone on to be chosen as the Rising Young Star for the August festival, and some have become professional musicians themselves.
Marika Galea, who participated in 2011 as a bassist from Agincourt Collegiate in Toronto, did both.
“We just knew when we heard her play, she was special,” says Barlow. “She then applied and became our rising young star at the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival. She’s now studying in Boston Berklee, and she’s playing with some of the top jazz players in the United States. And she’ll be back again this year.”
Now in its sixth year, the educational program is one of Barlow’s favourite parts of the jazz festival.
“I find it very exciting,” he says, his tone matching his words. “I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. Blair spends his days with students, and listening to them play music, and I’ve never really been a teacher. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. And you know what? I look forward to this every year. It’s invigorating for me, the enthusiasm that these kids have.”