Kids on keys
Youth pianists in master classes

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 11/00) - Yellowknife piano students will have the opportunity to hone their playing skills next week.

Dr. Joan Miller, a pianist with a noteworthy reputation as a teacher, clinician, adjudicator and examiner for the Royal Conservatory -- the standard program taught to budding pianists -- will be in Yk teaching master classes.

"We're so excited at having someone of her calibre here," enthuses workshop co-ordinator Loretta Isaac.

About 50 students will receive instruction from Miller, who will be coming to Yk from Brandon, Man.

"I think this is the largest number of students that have ever participated in a workshop here. It's a really good response," says Isaac, who is also a piano teacher."

What's different in this workshop is that in larger centres they usually have a festival of a more competitive nature. There would be a first prize, second prize, and third prize.

"But this is a series of master classes and that means the adjudicator, Dr. Miller, will listen to a group of students play, at a certain level, and then she'll gather them around and she'll discuss what they've done. It's a more informal, instructive type of classroom situation," says Isaac.

Isaac believes with this less threatening set-up, the young musicians will be more willing to perform for their peers.

Both Isaac and Ardith Dean -- another local piano teacher -- agree that the master classes have the added benefit of exposing the kids to someone other than their own teachers.

"They find out their teacher was right all along," says Dean, laughing.

For kids who take private lessons, it gives them a chance to play with others," adds Dean.

"It gives the opportunity for the kids to perform and it also gives them an opportunity to hear other students play," says Isaac.

And both teachers know that it's a chance for the students to be more prepared for their Royal Conservatory exams in June.

"This is an opportunity for them to do a dry run," Isaac says.

"They're prepared now. It will makes their grades higher for the June exams," says Dean.

The levels of the participating pianists range from preliminary -- someone who has only been playing for about a month -- to Grade 10 of the Royal Conservatory program.

"This all came about because of the Northwest Territories Music Teachers' Association -- a group of eight teachers, predominantly piano, but there's also one who teaches clarinet and saxophone," says Isaac."

These teachers are all committed to fostering music in Yellowknife and giving students the opportunity to perform and take exams. On their initiative they went to the (NWT) Arts Council to get the money. The council granted the association $1,650.

And it won't only be students participating in the workshops.

"One of the teachers is even performing. On the Friday, the last day of the workshop, there's a teachers workshop, devoted entirely to the teachers ... and they can discuss with Dr. Miller whatever they'd like."

The workshops take place next Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at the Calvary Community Church. Everyone is welcome. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.