Acclaimed drummer to lead Whitehorse music camp

Growing up in the heart of Alberta's Bible Belt, it was mandatory for Karl Schwonick to take part in his tiny school's band program as a child.

Growing up in the heart of Alberta’s Bible Belt, it was mandatory for Karl Schwonick to take part in his tiny school’s band program as a child.

With an inclination towards percussion instruments, he quickly discovered a passion for the drums and began developing his talent – one that would ultimately lead to performances on some of the world’s most prestigious stages such as Carnegie Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in New York City.

The award-winning musician is coming back to Whitehorse this summer as one of 14 professional musicians and music educators sharing their knowledge at this year’s Yukon Summer Music Camp, held from July 28 to Aug. 2.

The accomplished 29-year-old said he loves coming here because of the flexibility involved with the structure of the camp.

“We have a traditional model here in Alberta where the kids sign up, come to class from 9-5 every day and perform a concert on Friday,” he told the News in between classes he offers at the Wetaskiwin Jazz Camp.

“What’s great about the Yukon’s music camp is that I’m offering three classes this summer and it’s fascinating to get people with a range of interests and experiences. People sign up because they want to be there and everyone is so nice, the way Yukoners approach social situations is amazing.”

One example Schwonick gave was of a Whitehorse resident, Jason Basnett, who took one of his drumming classes last summer.

Schwonick taught a technique the participants could practise with their feet almost anywhere, and wanted to lead off the next day’s class with it. But Basnett said he couldn’t take part because his shins were sore from doing it so much the night before.

“I was impressed by that dedication,” Schwonick said.

Basnett, who took four classes last summer and plans on taking three this year, said the camp is a great opportunity to learn from masters of their craft like Schwonick.

“I wouldn’t consider myself a musician; I play a mean stereo but I don’t do much music,” he said.

“But where else will you find a room full of drums where you can just give’er? Karl is a phenomenal person and great ambassador for drumming, and I can see stuff that I’m not normally exposed to.”

Being legally blind has never been an impediment for Schwonick, who initially started playing music on the violin in a household where everyone played an instrument. With the violin, it’s easy to make a different sound by moving your finger a millimetre, but it’s easier to bang out a sound on the drums, he said.

“A lot of music, with jazz especially, comes from an oral tradition where you’re expected to learn a lot by ear,” he said.

“You’re expected to listen closely and there isn’t always music written for the instrument. In some ways that was great for me because I never had to be distracted by sheet music.”

Some obstacles, such as performing in a band and noticing cues to certain people, were harder adjustments for Schwonick but he said he’s learned to deal with the day-to-day hurdles.

Even his three-and-a-half-year-old son Abram is already following in his father’s footsteps, picking up drumsticks and repeating rhythms.

“He says he wants to be a hockey player and a drummer,” Schwonick said with a laugh.

The registration deadline for the Yukon Summer Music Camp, which is held at the Yukon College and Yukon Arts Centre, is July 16.

Contact Myles Dolphin at