This is usually a time of year when Music Aurora volunteers start planning for next year’s extravaganza just days before the Aurora Winter Blues Festival. But there is nothing normal this year and nothing normal last year when the 2020 festival had to be canceled due to COVID-19.
With their venues being dark and their guitar strings cool, it’s been a period of uncertainty for Music Aurora, but what hasn’t lessened or cooled off during the break is their passion for music and helping young musicians.
It is this passion that drives Music Aurora towards September as they plan to restart their Youth in Music initiatives for the 2021 Culture Days.
Providing the opportunity for young musicians to improve their craft while making money to perform professionally has been one of the driving forces behind the volunteer-run organization since its inception and will continue to support it in the future, according to volunteer Greg Smith.
“When we canceled the festival last year, we temporarily postponed it to September 2020,” says Smith. “We had it in place, but it became clear pretty quickly that this wasn’t going to be realistic. Then we tried to do some of the virtual pop-up performances that we have traditionally done with our cultural partners like the library. As we were preparing to pick up and do all of this, the final lockdown happened, and that also threw a wrench into those plans. The frustrating part for cultural groups and organizations is the uncertainty involved in planning. It’s very challenging. “
It was a challenge well into 2021.
Although Music Aurora has taken an active place in a community-run Arts & Culture Roundtable, they haven’t been able to come up with any specific plans of their own before the end of 2020, but all of that will change this year if the group takes a central role in the start of the Culture Days in September.
“It’s about youth and it’s about a focus on singer-songwriters in the Aurora area,” says Mr. Smith. “We’re working to see if this will even be feasible outdoors in September.”
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As members of the city’s Cultural Leadership Team, Music Aurora and other cultural groups have worked to support the sector through this troubled time, seeking shared opportunities to work together so that their individual plans and initiatives mesh and complement each other.
During the pandemic, giving young musicians the opportunity to develop their craft was a challenge. To maintain the standards they have set for these junior employees, Music Aurora strives to provide uniform lighting and sound for musicians to provide them with a professional experience.
Creating videos on their phones and posting them to YouTube, TikTok and other social media platforms only goes so far, says Smith.
“We always want to make sure that they are doing their best about what they are doing,” he says. “We would like to develop some virtual possibilities and recordings as well as a presentation of some youth musicians … for what will happen in September with the start of the cultural days in the city.
“When the pandemic started, the world saw very quickly that music was one of the few things that made people feel unified, went online and virtually watched musicians. It gave people a little hope and I think the pandemic has hopefully taught us how important music is in our lives and what role it plays. I hope that for young musicians we can always encourage more of them to do whatever they want to pursue in music and to support them in any way we can. No question about it, it was … very difficult with a negative impact on the musicians as a whole. The vaccine sheds some light in the tunnel, but I still think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered in order for visitors to feel safe when they return to a place like the Aurora theater that 150 people attend but feel safe and feel that they are confident that they will buy the ticket to attend the show.
“One of the things we’ve always done very well is to encourage young musicians to know their worth. The fact that their talent and time, equipment, lessons are worth something and every single teenage artist we have ever had in the history of Aurora music and the Aurora Winter Blues Festival has been paid for. We firmly believe in it and I think this is one of the things we will work on in the future to remind people of the value that music and musicians play during the pandemic when things were dark and uncertain and hopefully they will too. Show these musicians this appreciation back when the green light comes for the opening. “
More information can be found at musicaurora.ca.
Brock Weir, reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative, The Auroran