More than 40 students and instructors from the National Youth Orchestra of Canada leave for India Tuesday to mentor and train young musicians, including some from a local orphanage, in Bangalore, India.
About 35 students from all over India, chosen based on their talent, are heading to Bangalore, also known as Bengaluru, for the training program.
"The Bangalore School of Music helped recruit them and identified the most promising ones and we’re going to be working with them teaching them how to set up an orchestral training institute and part of that will be direct hands-on practical experiences," said Barbara Smith, NYOC executive director.
'In my long teaching experience, I find the more you ask the more you get from students and the more they enjoy the experience'—Instructor Gabriel Radford
There will be an intensive two weeks of training for Canadian and Indian students together — including master classes, chamber music classes and workshops. The culmination of the week will be a series of performances, including a public concert given by the combined Canada-India Youth Orchestra on May 25.
For the young Canadians, the top NYOC students, is an exciting cultural exchange; for the Indians, a chance to advance their abilities as classical musicians and to find out how to create a youth orchestra of their own.
Canadian students are mentors
"When I think about the power to bring a program that could inspire that kind of change I want to be part of it," says Gabriel Radford, a French horn player with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and NYOC instructor who is travelling to India.
Radford will be working with a small group of brass and woodwind players and said he expects the Canadian students, who he works with every summer, will mentor those from India.
"I think about sharing my love and my inspiration for music and being able to share some of my experiences and just help them get better, because nothing is more encouraging about music than getting better at your instrument and improving," he added.
The NYOC training program, held every summer, is remarkable for its intensity, Radford said. Students must audition every year to get in and are pushed to perform and improve continually throughout the training program. He hopes to inspire the same kind of joy and commitment to music in the Indian students.
"In my long teaching experience, I find the more you ask the more you get from students and the more they enjoy the experience," he said.
The Indian students come from varied backgrounds and include some from St. Mary’s Orphanage in Bangalore who have progressed as far as they can with instruction from priests who run their school program.
NYOC’s relationship with India began about 18 months ago, when Smith was approached about a collaboration through the Federation of International Youth Orchestras. Smith says there is interest in Western classical music in India, but the country currently lacks high level training and was interested in how NYOC was able to develop its young talent.
Indian musicians came to Canada
The first stage was to bring four Indian students to Canada last summer – two violin players, one viola and one cello player – to take the summer session with the NYOC.
Mark Fewer, a strings and chamber music instructor with NYOC, worked with the four students and says they "soaked up" as much as they could in that eight weeks.
"What I found was that these four were like every other four students you’d put together — some stronger than others — and the real key was whether or not they were interested in education. Because they were, they made very fast and remarkable progress," he said.
Two of those students will take part in the two-week Indian training session, working with the large group of Indian strings players who will participate. They stay in touch with those they met in Canada via Facebook.
Fewer says he expects to "go fast at it every day" throughout the two weeks and hopes to foster chamber music opportunities for the Indian students.
"Ideally from the team we’re bringing over, we’re doing what we want to do wherever we go which is a collaborative effort through music that has the ability to transcend the boundaries between people – that’s the great asset we bring wherever we go."
NYOC maestro Alain Trudel is also making the trip and will conduct the combined orchestra as they play their final concert together – Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony – at Chowdiah Memorial Hall.
Lack of resources
Smith says the Indian students do not have access to the wide range of resources that Canadian classical musicians have. They have difficulty getting bows repaired, finding instrument cases and even finding supplies such as spare strings, rosin and reeds for their instruments.
NYOC has arranged with sponsors to bring reeds, rosin and other supplies and will donate musical instruments to St. Mary’s Orphanage, where it also plans to play a concert. The exchange doesn’t end with the closing concert – the NYOC will again welcome three Indian students to join its intensive training session this summer.
Smith says the exchange gives the Canadian students a real opportunity to be leaders in the classical community and to understand the universality of music. She can't predict whether the students they meet will become a national youth orchestra of India, but she says the goal is to share skills and lay groundwork for a program similar to NYOC there.