“They just don’t stop!”
That’s the coordinator of the Yukon Cello Project, Nico Stephenson, describing the energy and enthusiasm his students bring to music class each day.
“Whether that’s playing cellos, or playing outside, they just don’t stop.”
While it means that some youngsters struggle to sit still, it also means there is a collective well of excitement and possibilities.
“We can push them indefinitely. These kids are going to be challenged until the very end.”
The Yukon Cello Project is Stephenson’s brainchild. He is a Vancouver-based cellist and was initially drawn to the Yukon after years of living in cities and attending music school. After graduating from the University of Montreal he decided on a foray into the north. This led to a summer managing the swimming pool in Ross River.
The Yukon worked its magic. This past winter Stephenson devised the Yukon Cello Project as a way to combine his love of music with his love of the Yukon. He wanted to bring an enriching experience of learning to play cello in a group setting to remote northern communities.
He recruited friends and fellow-cellists Isidora Nojkovic and Roland Gjernes as instructors, assembling a project proposal earlier this year, and raised funds and awareness.
Dozens of calls and emails later, with donors and sponsors on board and in partnership with the organization Whitehorse Concerts, the Yukon Cello Project was able to offer a free five-day music camp for children and youth aged between about six and 15 in Ross River, Mayo and Dawson City.
The main goals were to provide a positive shared experience, transferable life-skills and an introduction to playing this beautiful, rich-sounding instrument.
During their time at cello camp in July, students learned the basics of cello techniques and care. Students also honed their pitch and rhythm, and played together in small ensembles. There was classical and pop music – ranging from an excerpt of Pachelbel’s Canon in D to tunes from the Star Wars soundtrack.
It wasn’t just children and youth who wanted to learn. Adults also expressed interest and participated in evening classes.
All three instructors with the Yukon Cello Project began learning cello at an early age and have each played for about 18 years. Outside of the project, Gjernes and Nojkovic are pursuing studies at the Manhattan School of Music, and Stephenson is teaching music in Vancouver schools.
There is time for fun, including being in a metal cello quartet and folk ensembles, but all three are serious when it comes to teaching. They speak in glowing terms of their own teachers and instructors over the years.
After wrapping up the Yukon Cello Project in Mayo in late July, Stephenson says he is overwhelmed by the positive feedback and is looking forward to next year. He plans to extend the programs into two-week camps, adapt and tweak the format and hopefully add another community.
For more information go to www.YukonCelloProject.org.