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19 January 2015

The Importance of Providing a Stage by Sophia Donforth

YTV asks individuals familiar with its activities to write an essay about their experiences with the organization, its events and presentations, and related topics. This one is from Sophia Donforth….. YTV consultant, 2015 Trad Camp manager, dancer, singer, teacher, organizer of Mad Robin Callers Collective, and member of Social Band and Solitary Souls. This was written as an associated essay for the annual showcase concert (February 7 at City Hall in Burlington), but it is applicable well beyond the promotion of that. If you’ve got a perspective on young folks involved with traditional music and dance, we’d love it if YOU could write something for us!

In college I had the joyous experience of meeting a classmate with an exquisite voice and an interest in Appalachian harmony singing. She shared CDs with me, and taught me a number of songs, and within a few months we’d formed a duo and were performing locally. As we started looking for gigs further afield, we discovered that our young faces were making it difficult for us to get booked. People who heard us sing in person were usually excited to hear us again, but trying to talk someone into booking us over the phone or via our website was really challenging. We looked and sounded inexperienced, (because we were), but our music was worth sharing and hearing.

Right as we were settling in to accepting that it might take years before we were able to do anything more than open for a bigger act outside our hometown audience, Mark Sustic contacted us about being part of the Young Tradition Vermont showcase. The stage YTV provided at Burlington’s First Night celebrations was one of the first times we had taken our singing out of state. The showcase was an excellent opportunity to meet other young musicians with whom we sang and from who we gained inspiration, and it was a fantastic chance to perform for an entirely new audience. The experience also gave us the guts to push harder as our own publicists and we continued to travel and perform for several years after that.

Ten years later, I’m happy to report that Young Tradition Vermont is still encouraging the development of young musicians by providing real performance opportunities. While celebrating traditional music and all of its varied roots, YTV also recognizes that if it is to be a living tradition, then we need to nurture young performers who will carry the music forward even as they change and adapt it to suit themselves. Folk music is a world that can be challenging to access since the “gatekeepers” of performing spaces across the country have a certain idea of what a “folk musician” looks like. The YTV stage is rare in seeking out young performers, and it adds to the variety and longevity of traditional music and dance with every new performer it brings to the stage.