Victoria Yeh compares the creativity of musical improvisation with the more visual medium of a blank canvas.
“It’s like going from a colouring book to a blank canvas – a wide open space,” she said. “And that can be overwhelming for young musicians.”
In partnership with the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC), she and two other musicians visited Hay River and Fort Smith in the last week to run workshops on how to put the creativity back in the music education process.
Yeh, a Toronto-based classically trained violinist, said the program was all about giving kids the toolbox they need in terms of harmony and rhythm, to then go on and create their own variations and experiment with different types of music.
Yeh herself said that music had been her outlet growing up and, that although she began her career at four years old, she quickly found that the classical masterpieces she could play didn’t reflect the popular songs she heard on the radio.
Instead of burrowing into her studies, she began experimenting with alternative styles and is now known for her electric violin renditions of chart-topping hits by Lady Gaga and Adele.
“One of the things that makes music enjoyable is the ability to be creative,” she said. “I hope this is helping kids develop that.”
About ten children signed up for the workshop at Ecole Boreale March 15 and 16, with about 20 set to participate in the Fort Smith session the following two days.
The tour itself had to be pared down from a more grandiose version that included more classes and a final concert, in which both students and the visiting teachers would perform. Budgetary concerns restrained it.
Yeh, however, said she was pleased that the essentials of the program remained intact.
“We kept the core of it, which was the outreach,” she said. “I grew up with a lot of peers studying music and very few of them still play. When I asked them why, a lot of them say, ‘Well, I finished all the grades,’ or ‘I didn’t want to do any more exams.’ I think that’s a bit sad. Music should be more than your repertoire.”
Marie Coderre, executive and artistic director at NACC, said that all three of the visiting musicians got an early start in the business and that she hoped they would inspire young artists in Hay River and Fort Smith to develop their own talents.
“It’s about exposing them to the freedom of improv and talking about how to put on a great show,” she said, adding the abbreviated tour was part of NACC’s outreach efforts.
Yeh said she had taught various iterations of the program before, though this was her first time visiting the North.
“We give them a basis in harmony and rhythm, and when they understand that, improvisation becomes easy and accessible,” she said.
“It’s not just about what notes to play. It’s about giving kids an outlet.”