This is normally a time of year where the volunteers at Music Aurora, just days out of the Aurora Winter Blues Festival, begin planning for next year’s extravaganza. But there is nothing normal about this year, nor was there anything normal about last year when the 2020 Festival was forced to cancel due to COVID-19.
With their venues dark and their guitar strings cool, it has been a time of uncertainty for Music Aurora, but what has neither dimmed nor cooled in the interval is their passion for music and supporting youth musicians.
It is this passion which is driving Music Aurora towards September, when they plan to re-launch their Youth in Music initiatives to coincide with Culture Days 2021.
Providing opportunities for young musicians to hone their craft while making money on a professional gig has been one of the driving forces of the volunteer-led organization since its inception and, according to volunteer Greg Smith, it will sustain them in the future.
“When we cancelled last year’s Festival, we tentatively rescheduled it for September of 2020,” says Mr. Smith. “We had it in place, but it became evident pretty quickly that wasn’t going to be realistic. Then what we worked on was trying to do some of the virtual pop-up performances we have traditionally done with our cultural partners like the Library. As we were getting ready to record and do all that, the last lockdown happened and that threw a wrench into those plans as well. The frustrating part for cultural groups and organizations is that uncertainty in trying to plan. It is very challenging.”
It has continued to be a challenge well into 2021.
Although Music Aurora has taken an active place in a municipally-led Arts & Culture Roundtable, they were unable to put concrete plans of their own into place before the end of 2020, but all that is set to change this year with the group taking a central role in the launch of Culture Days this September.
“It is about youth and it is about a focus on singer-songwriters in Aurora and the area,” says Mr. Smith. “We’re working through that to see whether that is even going to be something feasible in an outdoor setting come September.”
As members of the Town’s Cultural Leadership Team, Music Aurora and other cultural groups have been working to support the sector through this difficult time, looking for common opportunities to work together so their individual plans and initiatives dovetail and complement one another.
Throughout the pandemic, providing opportunities for young musicians to develop their craft has been nothing short of a challenge. To maintain the standards they have set for these up-and-comers, Music Aurora aims to have consistent lighting and sound for musicians to give them a professional experience.
Making videos on their phones and posting them to YouTube, TikTok, and other social media platforms only goes so far, says Mr. Smith.
“We want to always make sure that they’re putting their best foot forward in terms of what they’re doing,” he says. “We want to look at developing some virtual opportunities and recordings and a presentation of some of the youth musicians…for what will happen in the Town come September with the kick-off for Culture Days.
“What the world saw very quickly when the pandemic started is music is one of those few things that gave people a sense of unity, going online and virtually watching musicians perform. It gave people a little bit of hope and I think that the pandemic has hopefully taught us is the importance of music in our lives and the role that it plays. I am hoping that, for youth musicians, we can encourage more and more of them to pursue whatever they would like to pursue in music and support them in any way we can. There is no question it has been…very hard with a negative impact on musicians as a whole. The vaccine provides some light in the tunnel, but I still think there are a lot of questions that are going to need to be answered so that patrons feel safe coming back into a venue like Theatre Aurora, which is 150 people, but to feel safe and to feel they are confident to buy the ticket to attend the show.
“One of the things we have always done very well is encouraged youth musicians to know their worth. The fact their talent and their time, their equipment, their lessons is worth something and every single youth performer that we have ever had in the history of music Aurora and the Aurora Winter Blues Festival, each of those performers had been paid. We believe highly in that and I think that is one of the things we will be working on going forward, trying to remind people of the value that music and musicians play during the pandemic when things were kind of dark and uncertain, and hopefully they will show that appreciation back to these musicians when the green light to open up happens.”
For more, visit musicaurora.ca.
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran