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25 August 2014

YTV Essay by Erich Zeichner

YTV has asked several individuals familiar with its activities to write an essay about their experiences.  This one is from Erich Zeichner, father of Oliver, Yasi and Loula, often referred to as ‘the Zeichners’.  We’ll cross paths again next when the Zeichners will be hosting the Instrument Petting Zoo when they are not performing at the New World Festival in Randolph on 8/31/14.  Hope to see (and hear!) you there!  If you’ve got a perspective that might work as an essay, we’d love to hear from you!  

When we landed on Vermont shores from Budapest in early 1998, we had never heard it said that Vermont is a good place to raise children, although we have since heard it many times, and seen the statistics published for Vermont’s standing as a safe and healthy place to live in national studies as one of the best places from the stand-point of a whole host of generic criteria, to both live and raise a family, and to be growing up. Music of course is never mentioned statistically as a reason to live in Vermont, but our family, once entering that vein, discovered that truly, musical nurture should be added to the list of great things happening here, available here, for those who need it, seek it, or would like their children to have the opportunity of a rich musical experience, to enhance and color their lives, for now, for their futures, for their delight, & to exist inside of them as a well-spring of inner happiness. Something to which no monetary or paper value could ever be assigned.

In our home there was always an atmosphere of music appreciation, with my own guitar-playing and song-writing, and keen interest in guitars & vintage instruments. It was natural for each of the children to eventually express an interest in picking up an instrument, although none of them began too early, and none of them were child prodigies. As parents, we did not want music to ever feel like a forced thing, but we wanted each child to have their own motivation and to experience it that way. When the right time came, we introduced them to the idea of structured learning and the commitment which that implies. They were ready for the challenge, and it did not require any high-powered convincing. In retrospect, that commitment over time has over-lapped onto every other area of their lives, and has taught them such valuable skills as stamina, honest work, rewards for your labor, concentration, focus, listening, attention to detail, precision, respect for others, and more. Yasi found a great violin teacher (Ruth Einstein), and Oliver found great teachers for the clarinet and saxophone (Joni McGraw, preceded by Pat Lamay). The youngest, Loula, eventually settled on the 5-string banjo, since her first choice of the harp was impractical at the time, and we found someone to tutor her at home learning claw-hammer style (Ted Ingham). This all resulted in us having our foot squarely in the world of Monteverdi Music School in Montpelier, & eventually in the Summit Music School of Traditional Music. Classical instruction was followed by an interest in traditional music, such as Old-time Appalachian roots music, Traditional Irish, Klezmer, etc. New mentors & teachers with a lot to offer appeared on the scene, Benedict Kohler & Hilari Farrington leading the way in the area’s growing Traditional Irish music scene, Dominique Dodge teaching harp, David Simmons & Rick Winston teaching Klezmer, etc. A love and appreciation for music had taken root, and the children were on their way. New instruments followed, the penny whistle, the Uillean bag-pipes, the Celtic Harp, the tenor banjo. First recitals were followed by regular recitals, then jams, living-room sessions, showcase events, invitations to gigs, festivals, music camps in the summer, etc. All of this developed into community & friends, & a sense of belonging to a thriving & ever-expanding network of energized people involved in a continual musical conversation, where there was and is, always a strong energy to inspire and uplift each other & the world at large, through music, dance, craft, and the levity & sweetness (and general happy craziness) that it brings. All of this made possible by the nurturing multi-generational environment of traditional music, in which music is passed down through example and both intentional instruction as well as the process of osmosis and absorbing by being around the vibe and other dedicated musicians of both the house variety as well as the professional players. Ordinary folk playing music according to their capacity, and in varying degrees of excellence, and passing down the old tunes & stories accompanying them, as well I might add, as the colorful & delightful characters and personalities of all involved.

Families with young children, just getting started out on the journey of completing the circle which began when the parents were themselves the children, are in a process…in a process of defining values, distilling the good from life, and instilling into the hearts & minds of the young, the things which will make life sustainable and beautiful. For every family, eventually, and hopefully, focus develops, as life is lived one frame at a time, and malleable lives are inevitably shaped by an undetermined variety of internal & external forces, events, conditions, circumstances, choices and decisions, intent and desire, luck, providence, and a certain amount of pluck and courage and determination to survive, and to thrive…..nurture & nature at work.

Yasi, Oliver and Loula are now older teens, and they play out regularly, but several years ago as younger teens, they were at a point where they were just beginning to learn to play together, and to play for others. That is when a key encounter took place, which opened the door wide for them to experience what it was like to be part of the greater musical conversation taking place in Vermont & radiating out & connecting with the musical conversation happening in many other places as well. We were invited up to Burlington to participate in a showcase event being organized by Young Traditions Vermont, where teachers and students performed together on stage. This was followed by many other invitations to perform and participate in events under the auspices of Young Traditions Vermont, a local organization founded by Mark Sustic, which has as its objective the facilitation of traditional music and dance for young people in Vermont, the building & supporting of a thriving musical culture and fabric of these traditional arts and performers which is accessible to all who want to participate, and especially children of all ages. This includes the young people themselves, and their teachers and mentors, as well as their families, siblings and the wider public. The encouragement and connectivity which resulted from being in that kind of a nurturing and positive social environment was invaluable for our 3 teens, and took things far beyond what we could accomplish in our own little home environment. This kind of influence and exposure was the elemental outside ingredient needed to enable these young people to take their music to another level and to grow themselves into a cohesive group of sibling musicians who can hold their own on any stage. To their credit, they have played to date at many exciting Vermont venues, both under the Young Traditions Vermont banner and on their own, a partial list would include: The New World Festival in Randolph, Farmer’s Night at the State House, Celebrate Vermont Festival in Stowe, Vermont History Expo in Tunbridge, Richmond Bicentennial Celebration, Fletcher Allen Memorial Services for Children, Voices For Vermont’s Children, Barre Heritage Festival, American Flatbread in Waitsfield, Big E in West Springfield, Mass, Northern Roots in Brattleboro, farmers markets, graduations, etc.

In conclusion, I would like to not only express the tremendous gratitude that we have as parents for Young Traditions Vermont, and for the individual instructors who have contributed to the musical fiber of our 3 teens, but I would like to venture out far enough to say that first of all, our experience is not entirely unique, because as a result of our horizons being broadened by all of the above mentioned connections, we have encountered many other families with similar stories to tell, so, I will venture to declare Vermont to be one of the best places to raise children in a musical vein, where they can learn the language of music, learn to express themselves fluently and comfortably, and have the opportunity to benefit from the rich musical heritage consisting of a veritable kaleidoscope of musical traditions which not only exist here, but continue to thrive here. Traditional music is alive and well and in good hands here in Vermont.