When Lynne Cavanagh landed in Whitehorse as the new executive director of Music Yukon, she hit the ground running.
She had no choice. It was already September, with the city poised to host one of the biggest musical events in Yukon history, the BreakOut West conference and festival, culminating in the Western Canada Music Awards on October 23.
“It was absolutely wonderful. It was like being thrown right into the middle of the mix, which is exactly where I like to be,” she says.
“So I had a lot of things right off the top, but it was a perfect way for me to get to know the people that I’ll be working with very quickly, and it was a great experience.”
A conversation with Cavanagh leaves the distinct impression this is someone who never does anything in slow motion.
Her words come packed with energy and enthusiasm, and an obvious commitment to Music Yukon’s mandate of helping local musicians further their careers and putting the territory on the musical map nationally and internationally.
Which may seem strange, considering how little she knew about the Yukon just a few months ago.
“The only thing I knew from musician friends of mine in Toronto was that it was a very creative place, that there was great music coming out of the Yukon and that they had a very strong cultural scene here.”
When a friend in the music industry told her about a position that seemed perfect for her, her reaction was guarded.
“And I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know. Whitehorse, are you kidding?'”
After reading the job description, she realized her friend was right.
“It really described the kind of thing I’m interested in and wanted to do,” she says.
“So I did apply, and then had the toughest interview I’ve ever had in my life with [Music Yukon president] Grant Simpson and [board member] Duncan Sinclair on a Skype interview, and came away very intrigued by these two people and the job that they had.”
Cavanagh is now ensconced in Music Yukon’s bright and comfortable office and resource centre on the second floor of a nondescript, metal-clad building off the alley behind 509 Jarvis Street.
She is surrounded daily by many of the same musicians she had heard about in Toronto – both in person and on recordings.
“I’m listening to music every day. I have tons of CDs here, and I love them all. I’m going through them one-by-one, and I look forward to profiling these terrific artists on our website.”
But it was BreakOut West that provided her crash course in the territory’s musical fare.
“It gave me an opportunity to see all these musicians in one place, wham-bam, which was just a real treat.”
Equally important, it offered instant networking with key people nationally and internationally she’ll be working with as point person for the Yukon’s music industry association.
“Rather than meeting them at another trade show, or some sort of corporate event somewhere else, I was meeting them on home turf and was very proud to be representing Music Yukon and the artists here within that context.”
One of Music Yukon’s initiatives during BreakOut West was to facilitate a “spotlight” series for musicians who weren’t part of the main festival.
“There were a lot of great musicians in the Yukon, people from Dawson and elsewhere, who weren’t part of the showcasing, but who wanted to perform,” she explains.
“We were able to provide them with an opportunity to do that by engaging local establishments that don’t normally have live music in their venues, to give it a shot and to have performers play at times that didn’t conflict with the showcasing artists.
“It was a big success. Everybody seemed to love it, including the venues.”
Cavanagh brings an eclectic background to her new role.
A former stage and film actor, director and producer, she has also been a theatre manager and an international circus performer.
In the 1970s, she even owned her own European-style circus, called Puck’s Canadian Travelling Circus, a forerunner to the Cirque du Soleil. Her partners included radio and TV celebrity Vicky Gabereau.
“Vicky Gabereau was called Rosie Sunrise, and we ran her for mayor of Toronto.”
Cavanagh doesn’t like to dwell on that aspect of her resume – “it confuses people,” she says.
Although not a musician herself, Cavanagh grew up with five brothers who were professional musicians.
“When you’re brought up from a baby listening to great musicians, you somehow expect to hear them all the time. So I think it has influenced me for sure.”
Her own musical credentials include producing large-venue musical events and initiating additions to Canadian Music Week such as the Enter Your Band Now contest, the INDIE Music Awards and the musician-focused TuneUp conference.
Cavanagh says her main priority here is “to develop the social networking for Yukon musicians on a global scale. You know, like it or lump it, we’re internet-based, so that’s just one of the things we have to embrace as a reality.”
But her agenda also includes fostering opportunities for Yukon musicians – everything from house concerts, to the successful Arts in the Park series and festivals that allow musicians from Whitehorse and other northern centres to interact.
There is also the matter of providing practical support to help Yukon musicians develop their skills in such areas as recording, proposal writing, web development and marketing.
“I also think it’s extremely important for me to be representing Yukon artists at key shows on a national and international level,” she says.
“These are incredibly important events for Yukon musicians to be represented at, because that’s where other people elsewhere in the world start hearing and understanding that we have so much to offer.”
Such efforts have “a trickle-down effect into other areas, such as film scores and radio play, and all kinds of different things,” she says.
Then, there are innovative ideas, such as one local person’s suggestion of a Yukon songbook.
“Isn’t that a great idea? Like, let’s put a Yukon songbook together. I’m all for that.”
Not to mention Cavanagh’s own idea of a showboat – possibly a barge – on the Yukon River.
“It would be great to have some sort of boat on the river with musicians playing. That would be just fabulous.”
Music Yukon’s energetic new executive director has hit the ground running.