The Yellowknife Music Festival will hold a 15th-anniversary concert at NACC on February 11 to showcase the work of the city’s music students and teachers.
Following the concert, the same group will host a performance on February 12 by École St Patrick High School alumnus Johnathan Raine, who now holds a doctorate in music.
Susan Shantora, founder of the festival and its showcase coordinator, says the concert gives students the opportunity to share their work with an audience in a non-competitive format.
“We’ll have a variety of performers, including musical theatre, classical piano, and Sir John Franklin High School’s stage band will even be performing,” she said.
“When we have our music festival in March and April, it’s more what people would consider a competition, so this is just an opportunity for everyone to share music in a fun setting.”
Shantora started the Yellowknife Music Festival in 2009 after moving to the city. One of the first things she noticed, she said, was the big community of adult musicians.
“There was a lot for them, but there wasn’t anything for the youth,” she told Cabin Radio.
“In order for students in particular to have the best experience possible in a musical way, we needed to create a community.”
Saturday’s concert will celebrate the work that has gone into the festival for the past 15 years, said Shantora, as well as the talents and skills of Yellowknife musicians.
In March, the festival will then hold its usual annual competition, a “launching point” that Shantora said often leads students to appear at larger festivals. Last year, pianist Joseph Curran and singer Sadee Mitchell went to compete at Canada West, a performing arts festival in Edmonton.
Piano student Matthew Bui has been playing for 10 years and will perform in Saturday’s concert.
“It’s exciting because you practise for so long, but no one really sees it,” he told Cabin Radio.
“In the concert, that’s when everyone sees it. They see how hard you’ve worked and how much you’ve progressed since the last concert.”
Bui hopes the concert helps inspire audience members to pursue music themselves, something he thinks is important in the North.
“We aren’t a lot of piano players up here, nor with other instruments like saxophones, flutes, choirs and whatnot,” he said.
“We’re a small community, obviously, but music can really bring us all together and make the hard parts of living in a small community a little bit easier, so I really hope this concert inspires others to join in.”
‘I’m finally coming home’
Raine’s Sunday performance returns him to the venue of his first solo recital, almost fifteen years ago.
Having spent the past 10 years pursuing degrees in music, most recently a PhD, this will be his first time back in Yellowknife.
“It’s going to be really special,” he told Cabin Radio.
That first recital was a defining moment for Raine, who had a passion for science and had, until that moment, never considered pursuing music after high school.
At another hour-long recital in Grade 12, working his way through “a few things that maybe were a little out of my league at the time,” he realized there may be more to music.
“That was the concert where I really started thinking about a future in music. In Grade 9, I thought maybe music could be something that I do, but in Grade 12 I thought, ‘Hey, maybe there’s something to this.'”
The next fall, Raine went to university to pursue a double major in music and physics.
“Pretty-much from day one, I realized that yeah, music is more rewarding for me,” he said.
Raine began his university career at the University of Ottawa before finishing his master’s at McGill. This past summer, he graduated with his PhD from Western University.
A Yellowknife resident for 15 years before moving south to study, Raine says the northern arts scene is unlike any he has found in the south. Performing in Yellowknife feels like returning to his home crowd.
“I’m looking forward to giving back to the community that helped raise me as a musician, gave me wonderful performance opportunities as a kid and as a teenager, and continuously showed their unerring support for me and my musical interests,” said Raine.
“I want to make coming back a regular thing, and maybe one day I’ll have the absolute privilege to be a part of the incredible art scene up there.”
Shantora says her festival’s musicians and students will be part of that “home community here, supporting him and cheering him on.”
“It’s going to be really great for everyone to hear him play again and hear how far he’s come,” she said, “from a high school student playing piano, to a piano performer with a doctorate in the thing we all know he’s best at.”
Raine will also teach masterclasses to festival students and, on Sunday evening, will give a public lecture at NACC on injury prevention for piano players.