Crystal Schick/Yukon News Katie Avery, organizer of Strings Extravaganza, poses for a photo with her violin in her home on Feb. 22.

String spectacle scheduled for Yukon Arts Centre

‘I think it’s really going to be a spectacle for the audience’

Bows and picks in hand, 100 string musicians are set to take the stage together as part of a mega Strings Extravaganza at the Yukon Arts Centre March 4.

Five community groups — Suzuki Strings, Suzuki guitars, the Whitehorse Strings Ensemble, Baroque Strings Collective and the Fiddleheads — all have members participating in the concert which will likely be the largest group most of them have played in, said organizer Katie Avery.

“How often do a bunch of different boards get together to make something big happen like this? That’s pretty unique,” Avery said. “I think it’s really going to be a spectacle for the audience because of so many groups coming together.… Just that collaboration is going to be really interesting to see.”

While most performers will be playing the violin, there will also be violas, cellos, guitars and possibly a bass player, she said. Performers range in age from adults to five years old or even younger.

Avery began teaching violin in 2012 not long after coming to Whitehorse. When she arrived, she said she was told there had been about a five-year span without a violin teacher in town.

Since then more teachers have started offering lessons but the territory is still working on building up its stock of musicians, she said.

“It’s going to take time before we have that full breath of beginner through intermediate through advanced and we actually have a full crop of students at each level.”

Without large numbers it can be hard for individual organizations to put on a big show, she said. A show with just beginners, for example, wouldn’t be very long because new musicians don’t know many songs.

Putting on shows is an important part of the process, particularly for beginners, she said.

“I think it’s really important to offer meaningful performance opportunities for kids so that in addition to classes they have a sense of purpose to what they are doing. Also it’s exciting, particularly the Arts Centre is a really exciting place to perform.”

Avery said she expects the audience to be blown away by the pint-sized musicians.

“People are going to be like ‘how is that tiny little child working that instrument right now?’”

Spreading out the work means there’s not too much pressure on any one group of musicians to fill an entire show, she said.

Each organization will get a chance to perform. Then the finale will include all 100+ musicians on stage.

The finale will include a fiddle tune by Yukoner Allan Benjamin called “Saturday Night Hoedown” as well as a junior orchestral arrangement of “Les Toreadors” from Carmen by Bizet.

With that many musicians slated to play, the only time they will all actually be able to practice together is during the rehearsal on the day of the concert.

“I’ve given everybody a metronome marking so theoretically everybody is rehearsing the same thing at the same speed,” Avery said.

“So that when we get there and I say ‘one, two, three, four,’ everybody’s ready for that because they’ve been practicing at that speed and they have it internalized.”

Members of the Suzuki Strings have all been taught violin using the Suzuki method, which is how Avery and other violin insturctors in the territory teach.

All students learn the same basic songs as they advance through the curriculum, meaning they can play together even if they’ve learned from a different teacher.

Part of the group performance by Suzuki Strings students will include a group rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” one of the first songs they students learn after picking up the violin.

Avery acknowledges that may sound “dinky” to the uninitiated. But she said having advanced students in the group means including things like harmonies.

“It’s sort of this glorious orchestral sound on this wonderful folk song that we’re all so familiar with.”

The method of teaching was designed by Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki around the time of the end of the Second World War, Avery said. He thought teaching children how to play music together would keep them from fighting.

“Because making music is literally the opposite of creating war because you have to work together, you have to work in harmony with each other,” she said.

“That sounds like a pun, but you have to literally work in harmony with each other in order to make it work and you just can’t be fighting with the people that you’re making music with.”

Being musical, she said, is something humans innately can do.

“Every culture has singing and drumming and dancing. We need to do it, it’s a really fun and easy way for humans to interact with each other. It’s really easy to have kids being engaged doing musical things because it’s so innate for us to do that.”

The Strings Extravaganza is March 4 at 7 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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Crystal Schick/Yukon News Strings Extravaganza poster in Whitehorse on Feb. 22.

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