It’s that time of year, when so many activities and responsibilities seem to reach their climax. It’s the end of our year of reporting with the SelfDesign program, and that involves a mad rush to submit and rectify purchases we’ve made, and spend the balance, as well as the final “annual report” document to be collaboratively created with our Learning Consultant for each child. There were the final rehearsals and performances for Sophie’s women’s choir, where Erin and I provided instrumental accompaniment. There are the lengthy and complicated planning sessions and board meetings for the Valhalla Fine Arts summer programs. The regional Suzuki Celebration Concert took place, with ensemble contributions from our local crew. The AGM of the regional Suzuki society happened the same day, meaning mad catching up for me on my Treasurer duties so that I could table a financial report. There was a trip to Calgary for lessons, our first in two months. Erin and Noah went off on their Corazon choir tour, with immensely successful participation in the Rocky Mountain choral Festival. They have a series of three final concerts and two recording sessions for Corazon which will round out their year, all within a two-week window at the beginning of June. We’re into the last week of rehearsals for the community orchestra, with a concert next weekend. The bookkeeping and income tax deadline looms large in mid-June as always. Yesterday was Fiona’s piano recital. And we have the end of year Suzuki recital coming up at the end of this month.
Then there are the other loose ends. The gardening, the chicken massacre courtesy of a bear, the thousands of dollars worth of work that urgently needs to be done on the van, time-consuming work and inconveniently distant from home, the music library catalogueing I’m trying desperately to get done for the summer school, my clinic work, updates on web content for the various non-profits I volunteer with, meetings with the school about a new homeschooling prospect for next year, and violin teaching to fit in around the edges. And somewhere else the grocery shopping, meal prep and housekeeping. And music practicing with the kids. And … er, … homeschooling. And … er, …. running. Neither of the latter two is happening much.
In the midst of it all, we went off to Vancouver Island for the Provincial Music Festival for a week. Erin and Noah had “won” the Intermediate and Junior Strings divisions respectively at the local level. Erin had been recommended to the Provincials in the past, on piano, but we had opted not to go then due to her lack of interest in the competitive milieu. This year she was happy for the opportunity and while Noah was lukewarm at best, he responded well to a nudge and I supposed figured if he was going anyway with the family it was no big deal to participate. I was very ambivalent about the whole endeavour, as it is a competitive situation. But we knew a few of the other participants, friends from SVI and VSSM, and I was hopeful that the exposure to other hard-working passionate music kids would be good for my two. I just hoped the competitive nature of the festival wouldn’t poison the atmosphere.
It didn’t at all. The adjudicator was encouraging and insightful. The other students were great. It did not feel like a pressure-cooker. We saw old friends and made some new ones. We saw a couple of well-loved piano teachers whom we’ve known as guest clinicians in our area. We enjoyed a number of stunning performances by amazing kids. Unfortunately for whatever reason there were no master classes or workshops for the strings kids. Guitar, dance, winds, speech arts, piano and voice all had their workshops, but the string players got nothing. No one seemed to know why. A bit disappointing, but whatever.
Erin and Noah played well. Neither were “outclassed” by their peers, as there was a range of abilities represented. Our province has basically two large urban areas and these have one to three local festivals each, turning out some incredibly highly-trained students. Then there’s the rest of the vast province with small local festivals like ours with just a handful of string participants and a few teachers. So there were other “big fish from small ponds” like my two. The quality of performances was very high, the ability level ranging from, oh, Suzuki Book 7-ish for one of the participants in Noah’s class to Bach Chaccones and Paganini Caprices in his and Erin’s class.
We watched an afternoon of chamber music too, as well as all the solo performances. I was blown away by the musical-ensemble sophistication of these kids, and left feeling very frustrated that I’m not able to give my own children that kind of experience in any way, shape or form. They get good individual teaching, albeit very infrequently (one lesson in March, one in May….). But they do not have a proper youth orchestra or challenging community orchestra to be part of, and neither is part of a string quartet or trio or anything of the sort. Their absolute keenest love is for chamber music, both of them, and there is simply no way they can get the kind of opportunity they crave — for a well-matched group of local students to meet every week and work hard at challenging standard repertoire like Brahms, Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Schubert. And I see no way to change that.
The kids I think felt similar combinations of inspiration with frustration. The students from cities just take for granted that they’ll have regular lessons, orchestras and ensembles that can challenge them at whatever level they need. If they get inspired and work hard, they have a next level of challenge to look forward to. They are so lucky!
Is there anything we can do differently to give Erin and Noah something a little closer to what they need to continue to develop musically? I’m racking my brain, but I can’t see how. Given the fact that they don’t really want to move, my medical license is no longer portable between provinces, they aren’t yet equipped to live away from home alone, nor would a boarding-type arrangement work well for my unschoolers. And a float plane isn’t really practical, is it? How about a stargate or star-trek style transporter?