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25 May 2015

YTV Essay from Pete Sutherland

When I left behind my growing-up world of piano and trombone lessons, the coordination issues and challenges of marching band and learning guitar from Beatles songbooks and discovered the parallel universe of traditional music, I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. I had few if any actual teachers from then on, stumbling cluelessly but happily from one festival or picking party jam session to another sucking up tunes, aided by my trusty Panasonic machine and a backpack’s worth of 3/$1 cassettes. It’s a wonder those cheap tapes lasted long enough for me to learn the music off of them, but I did have two things going for me from the get-go: a strong peer group to play and learn with, and a series of mentors. These wise folk were musicians and music-lovers of my parents’ and occasionally my grandparents’ generation who were true tradition-bearers, and despite whatever feelings they might have had about my long-haired-hippie appearance, they welcomed me into their homes and their musical lives.

I was (just barely) smart enough then to value these opportunities, but over time I grew smarter. I reckoned that with the passing of my mentors a link to the living past was in danger of disappearing, and that I and my generation of unschooled amateur tune-hunters WERE that link now. Although I had been teaching music lessons off and on my whole adult life, the idea of making a much larger step into the world of active long-term mentoring slowly took shape in my mind.

What is mentoring to me? It goes beyond the transmission of tunes, songs, chord patterns. It’s giving background history through anecdotes and stories. It’s sending notices of concerts by visiting artists and links to Youtube videos. It’s calling a young person up and taking them to a show or a dance. It’s finding opportunities for kids with ability to access the stage or the bandstand at a dance. And beyond all that, it’s maintaining an active listening role for the young person when they have questions or concerns about playing this admittedly weird, under-the-radar music, or are wondering what THEIR place might be in the continuing thread of tradition. Above all it’s about EMPOWERMENT.

As an organization, and a collection of first-class mentors,Young Tradition Vermont in my mind embodies this skills set. They provide the all-important social piece, workshops, festivals, cultural exchange and camp intensives, access to performance opportunities, outreach to new communities of young learners and more. YTV too is all about empowerment. It is such a great honor and privilege to be part of the mentoring community that YTV does so much to nurture. Burlington and the Northern VT community are empowered many times over.

Pete Sutherland