The Beat Goes On

Comox Valley Youth Music Centre comes back full force to celebrate their 43rd year…

The Courtenay Youth Music Camp (the organization’s original name) was established in 1967 as a two-week summer retreat for the Vancouver Junior Symphony. The fledgling organization quickly gained support within the community however, and in just five years its student enrolment had ballooned from 55 to 383, with many more being turned away. Enrolment reached its apex in the mid ’70s with more than 500 students attending a program that was now six weeks long.

But turmoil wasn’t far off. In 1977, a popular grant program that was bringing scores of students in from Quebec came to an end, and by 1981 CYMC was operating with a $125,000 deficit that threatened the existence of the organization. Only a well-orchestrated “Save CYMC” campaign and some careful internal restructuring thwarted an early demise in the ’80s, and CYMC was soon once again following an upward trajectory.

Recently, however, with the arrival on the Comox Valley arts scene of an upstart new theatre company, CYMC’s coffers once again began to dwindle. With more hands reaching out for fewer dollars, CYMC was forced to make cuts, and first on the chopping block was the classical program.

“There was definitely much larger competition for dollars, and at the same time a reduction in dollars from arts organizations and government,” recalls Wells. “There was also a reduction in actual student registrations. From the time that I got involved with CYMC at the board level as treasurer and then president, the classical program was significantly more expensive than the other programs, so when things started to get tight we had to sit down and ask how we could make it work.”

Many onlookers thought that the cancellation of the classical program was the first sign of CYMC’s demise. Proving its resilience, however, the CYMC board has once again restructured, fine tuned its budget and re-emerged stronger than ever.

“Basically, it’s all about budgeting,” says Wells. “Last year, running classical the way that it had been run, the board said ‘this isn’t going to work. We have to cut it and get ourselves working more efficiently.’”

One component of that efficiency in the 2009 classical program is the addition of master classes. These optional, more intimate classes will be put on by CYMC faculty in between regular sessions, taking advantage of the downtime that these world class musicians have while in town for the camp anyway. Another innovation was the establishment of CYMC’s “Live at the Met” program, an entire season of Metropolitan Opera performances shown live on the big screen at Courtenay’s Rialto Theatre. The program began last October and has been incredibly popular, which Wells says proves the relevance and importance of CYMC’s classical program.

“The classical program is important to the extent that there are not a lot of classical music programs out there at the same calibre that CYMC is at,” he says. “It’s a unique scenario that you don’t really get in most classical music schools; our students will be living and breathing classical music for a long period of time, and having the opportunity to perform at various venues as well.

“Classical music has a huge cultural impact and a huge cultural and historical value,” he continues. “There is a need to keep it going, and a need to make sure that the people who are vested in the classical community are able to pass on their craft to the next generation. It’s not necessarily as sexy as, I don’t know, playing saxophone in a jazz band, but there’s still a need for it.”

Another innovation that veers from CYMC’s traditional methodology is the establishment of an In-House Concert Series, a series of intimate performances held in private residences, generally featuring local musicians. While some within the organization have praised the series as an essential step toward a closer involvement with local musicians, an overhaul of CYMC’s current model of bringing faculty in from elsewhere, suggests Wells, is not in the near future.
“To a certain extent there’s a sexier marketing appeal in having the bigger names coming to town,” he explains. “It’s a double-edged sword because we do have a lot of local professionals who are very talented, but from the perspective of students it’s sometimes easier to say ‘well, this person is really big in Vancouver or Victoria or another area and we’re bringing them in as experts in their field.’ For the local students that would probably have a bigger draw then saying, ‘OK we’re going to do a summer camp and we’re going to have the same people who have basically been teaching you all year at the schools or other organizations that are already in the Comox Valley.’”

Whatever form CYMC eventually takes as it continues to evolve as one of the Comox Valley’s leading arts organizations, one certainty is that local music and musical theatre aficionados are in for a treat this summer.

CYMC’s Festival of Summer Sounds begins on Thursday, July 5 with its All-Star Jazz Faculty Concert and continues throughout July.

For complete details and a schedule of performances, visit cymc.ca or call the CYMC office at 250-338-7463.