You expect a certain level of excitement and enthusiasm from someone who is brand new to the YONA Sistema program. “It’s a lot of fun,” the rookie says with obvious nervous energy. “We can ask a ton of questions, we can try different things and a lot of games. I’m really excited.”
The thing is, the person being interviewed is a Teaching Artist, not a new student. Miss Jen has just finished her second week as the new percussion Teaching Artist at St. Alphonsus School, and if she sounds a little like how one of her students might sound, that’s probably a good thing.
“On Thursdays, when I don’t come in, I’m thinking, ‘What am I doing? I wanna be at YONA, I wanna see those kids, see them play, they’re doing so good.’ They’re really fascinating characters, and they’re so much fun to be around. It’s just an absolute joy coming in.”
From St. Albert, Miss Jen says that the help she received from teachers and others as she studied percussion as a youth makes a program like YONA Sistema a perfect fit for her. “People had stepped in to help me, and I thought that would be great to help some other children learn percussion.” And she is grateful for the support mechanism already in place when she got here. “My colleagues have been incredibly supportive,” she says. “Everyone here always has tips and advice and materials and ideas. But it’s been a lot of getting to know the students.”
Miss Jen’s biggest surprise so far, she says, is just how quickly her new charges catch on. “It’s scary how fast these kids pick things up. I was working the other day on leading stick on timpani with a student, and just how fast they take the idea, like, ‘Try it this way,’ and almost immediately, they’ll just nosedive into it, they’ll just tunnel-vision it until they get it just exactly as you showed them, and they’ll start to process it without needing a prompt or anything. They’re just ready to go. How fast and eager they are definitely caught me off guard.”
There are three senior percussion students, and nine fresh new recruits for Miss Jen to instruct, and that has made an important aspect of the values of YONA become apparent to her. “When I work with the whole group, it’s this really fantastic experience where the seniors are these driven, young leaders who are taking on more and more challenges, showing each other and the younger students how to hold things, how to play things, helping them to correct grips and strokes – while cementing what they already know. When it’s you teaching something, you’re going to learn it way differently – and way better,” states Miss Jen. “So they’re checking their own grip as they help show other kids how. So I’m really getting to see some of them light up, as far as leadership goes.”
post and photos by D. T. Baker