By taking her fiddle class online, one fiddle instructor is changing the music education community the in the north.
Zavallennahh Huscroft (formorly known as Zav RT), from Victoria, has been teaching fiddle for 20 years, working in rural northern communities in the north for nine, and for the past five she has been visiting living rooms and classrooms virtually.
This year, she Skyped into the Yukon, starting with the music room at the Robert Service School (RSS) in Dawson City.
“It’s pretty great. It’s such a change in my world because I used to travel all the time, going to different places teaching music,” says Huscroft.
Her reach into the north started in the Northwest Territories.
“Part of the reason I started there was my grandmother lived in Inuvik for many years, and she would always talk about these stories about the north when I was a kid that got me really intrigued,” saysHuscroft.
She realized that sparked curiosity after meeting Louis Beck, a fiddler who was living in the NWT at the time, while they were both at a wedding in Salt Spring Island, B.C.
She worked with Beck’s Kole Crook Fiddle Association, in Wrigley, NWT, and also with Strings Acrossthe Sky and the Aurora Fiddle Society.
The Yukon connection started with Peter Menzies, president of the North Klondike Highway Music Society, whom she met in Dawson while on her “Home Roots” tour with her brother, Daniel, last April.
On Sunday afternoons this winter in Dawson City, Huscroft video calls the music room, where a group of adult fiddlers meets
(Besides being a music teacher, she is also a performer. And with the Home Roots tour, the brother-sister pair played house concerts and visited the communities.)
Menzies asked if she could do some teaching in Dawson as well.
As Dawson was at the end of her tour, she agreed. She stayed for several days doing workshops and a community dance.
Afterward, she and Menzies stayed in touch and did Skype lessons.
“Peter would scratch my brain for ideas about the group of young children that he was working with, and then he just said, ‘Hey, let’s get something more formal going.'”
A virtual classroom at RSS with a group of adult fiddlers began. Meanwhile, Keitha Clark, a fiddler from Whitehorse, asked Huscroft to help start a program to reach into the communities closer to Whitehorse.
Clark applied for a grant to fund an itinerant program to travel to communities and introduce fiddling, and Huscroft has become her mentor, yielding experience from NWT.
This month, Huscroft is back in the Yukon, spending a week with Clark before heading up to Dawson to actually meet and play with her virtual fiddle students, and perform at a coffee house on April 14.
She is going full-circle with her Dawson class, but it was the road where Huscroft started making internet video calls. At first, she just wanted to talk with home. In 2007, her ex-husband suggested she use it as a platform for teaching, with her students in the NWT in particular.
At the beginning it was a struggle.
“It was much better than what the alternative was, which was nothing, but it was a bit annoying because there was a major delay and the screen would freeze a lot. However, like everything in technology these days, it really started improving.
“As a teacher I had to adjust my teaching style—I had to learn how to be more articulate in describing things, and had to realize what was worth tackling, and some things are just hard to do without physically being present in the room with somebody.
“You just have to be innovative and inspire creativity.”
In addition, with a new baby, Huscroft cannot travel as much as she used to. Platforms such as Skype,iChat, Gmail video calling (she says she is signed up for them all to cater to the preferences of different students) in addition to stable people on the ground, such as Menzies and Clark, make it possible forHuscroft to be two places at once.
Other than Dawson, she makes internet video calls with Masset, Queen Charlotte Islands/Haida Gwaii, and she keeps up with students from NWT.
The results are inspiring.
In particular, one student she started teaching in person in Fort Simpson, NWT, when he was about 13. He showed such talent that he was given an opportunity to move to Salt Spring Island to finish his high school education at the Gulf Islands School of the Performing Arts.
Wesley Hardisty, recognized as a musical prodigy, is now 17, and he still keeps in touch withHuscroft.
“I do regular Skype lessons with him, no matter where I am,” she says.
“[Skype] has made it accessible to students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to do music, because they are in remote places or some people who just have crazy schedules.”
The north, however, is where Huscroft’s passion and focus still lingers.
“I find that people in remote communities are so appreciative of the opportunity to learn, so they are the best students.
“It’s been great for me to find a way to still be able to do this, this teaching that I love.”