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29 August 2014

YTV Essay from Alison James

YTV has asked several individuals familiar with its activities to write an essay about their experiences.  This one is from Alison James, YTV Board of Directors member, mother of McKinley and Anika, wife of Joplin.  Many wonderful things to say about Alison and her family….. see her profile on the ‘about our board’ section of the web page.  Daughter McKinley is a member of the Irregulars and one of the winners at this year’s Young Tradition Contest.  Associated with that, she will be appearing with Isabel Oliart at the New World Festival in Randolph on 8/31/14 and the Compass Music Arts Center in Brandon on 9/12/14.  If you’ve got a perspective on young folks involved with traditional music and dance, we’d love to talk you about writing an essay!    

When my daughter was young, she fell in love with the cello. Our house was filled with music, classical of course, but also traditional music that often featured the fiddle. McKinley wasn’t daunted by the fact that most fiddles tuck up under your chin. She forced her fingers to fly up and down the cello fingerboard simulating the high E-string notes a fiddler plays.

Mark Sustic, a multi-instrumentalist with a soft spot for kids, has musical connections that range from bowling with Joni Mitchell and Jackson Brown (in their cusp-of-fame days) to many of the leading Irish, Cape Breton, Quebecois and of course New England traditional musicians. In his unassuming way, he’s brought those musicians (well, not Joni and Jackson) to Burlington, set them up with concerts, and had them tag on a workshop in the afternoon for anyone learning to play tunes.

My daughter tapped right into this, and session after session, her skill developed, alongside a cluster of other avid young musicians. Mark, working with his organization, Young Tradition Vermont, arranged for these kids to perform. They played tunes at the annual Pirate Festival at Maritime Museum; they played for several July evenings at Grand Isle State Park.  They played at Farmer’s Markets, Foothills Bakery in Fairfax, and for the Quechee Balloon Festival.  When they got better, they were honored by being asked to play at the New World Festival in Randolph, which became a high point of the year.

When these kids were young, audiences appreciated them because they were adorable. But due to the weekly rehearsals and monthly workshops with world renowned musicians, they actually improved. They could test their skills once a year at Kid’s Day, where Young Tradition Vermont hosts an annual competition.

Even in a competitive environment, the mission of YTV is clear – it’s about encouraging enthusiasm for traditional music and dance, not just Celtic, but from all over the world. There are prizes for the best dancer, for the best beginner, for the best original tune, the best performance from a New American, and on and on. So many kids are rewarded with solid cash prizes, and that just whets their appetite for more tunes.

Why does this matter so much? Just ask the kids in Baird 5, the ward up at the hospital for children with challenging medical conditions. Another monthly gig for the YTV kids who play traditional music is to play for these guys in the hospital. Mark knows that view from the inside, as he lost his son to leukemia ten years ago.

It isn’t enough just to play it forward, creating a generation who loves the traditions of our cultures. YTV is also about paying it back, giving the joy of music to create even a momentary diversion for those Baird 5 kids.  And a portion of each concert goes into a fund to support their families.

My little cello girl is diving into the most challenging year of her life so far – she’s auditioning to major conservatories across the country. She wants to get a solid classical degree, so she can be as technically proficient as possible. But she plans to make her living playing music that makes people get up and dance.