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2 July 2015

YTV Essay by Geoff Gevalt

Geoff was a journalist for 33 years at newspapers, magazines and news services in New England, Ohio, Boston, New York City and Baltimore, and most recently was managing editor of the Burlington Free Press.  He won numerous awards as a writer and editor and served as juror for the Pulitzer Prize.  He conceived and began the Young Writer’s Project in 2003 with the assistance of teachers from the Vermont chapter of the National Writing Project, with a mission of building generations of better writers.  He lives in Hinesburg with his wife, Ginny. They have three children who like to make things, including Anna who will be teaching (3pm) and performing (6pm) with Elizabeth LaPrelle on July 22nd at Burlington City Arts (more info about that here).

What I love about the music world is that mentoring – passing knowledge down to someone else – seems to come naturally, particularly in the traditional music genre.

My daughter, Anna Roberts-Gevalt, and her singing partner, Elizabeth LaPrelle, understand this intimately. The two have been performing together for four years and both have gained so much knowledge because so many elder musicians have given freely of time and advice, songs, techniques and stories. Anna and Elizabeth have, in turn, paid it forward; both work extensively with kids in schools, at music camps and individually.

This musical mentorship – such an integral part of Young Tradition Vermont – is based on trust and respect. The trust centers on elders’ recognition that young musicians are hungry and eager and intentional. They want to get better, learn more, expand their horizons. And the elder musicians respect that and they trust that what they pass along is used well.

The youths, meanwhile, give honor to the skills and knowledge of those who have gone before them. They pay attention, the notice the details – that’s what skills building is all about. They also recognize that, when the time is right, when they have the skills, they can apply their own interpretations, own arrangements, own stories to what has been passed onto them. And this, too, is the texture, the depth of traditional music.

So cool. And I wish this were as true and deep in all artistic areas.

The urge to mentor, though, is one of the prime reasons I started Young Writers Project, a small nonprofit that works with thousands of kids each year. Our aim is to help youths explore and expand their ideas, provide them with feedback and skills building and then get them authentic audience. In audience is affirmation and purpose.

Just like in music.

And that’s why Mark Sustic and I get along so well. Even though we don’t see each other that often, when we do, it’s like we are just resuming a conversation. We have an innate understanding of what each of us is about. We both understand the value – and fun – of working with youths, of seeing them grow and blossom and shape their own voices. And we both understand the value of audience – people like you.

So go out of your way to support a youth’s interest in music and writing and other arts. Show them you value and trust their work, their growth, their dreams. Feed their fires. I know that a whole lot of people have done that for daughter Anna – and for both my other children as well. And those of you who’ve had a chance to see and or/hear Anna and Elizabeth perform can see how much power they’ve gained because of all the help they’ve received.

Geoff Gevalt

Geoff Gevalt