Fifty summers of CYMC music camps: thousands of students, hundreds of faculty and volunteers, and scores of administrators and all have a tale to tell. Each and every one brought his or her talent and passion. It is with awe and immense gratitude to them all, that we in 2017 will be celebrating CYMC’s Fiftieth Anniversary.
To remember every single one in this tribute would be impossible. But those who envisioned the camp and those who carried it through both prosperous and lean times will be cherished in our stories for ever.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
In 1965 the Community Arts Council was formed to promote cultural, educational and recreational activities in the Comox Valley. An early initiative was the launching of an annual summer arts school. Beryl Regier, in 1966, invited the Vancouver Junior Symphony (VJS) to the Comox Valley to perform its first concert, with Simon Streatfeild conducting. The following year Simon and Robert Creech (a director with the VJS) met with School District 71 and the Courtenay Youth Music Camp began as a centennial project of the VJS Society. With the support of S.D.71, Puntledge Park Elementary hosted fifty five students and five faculty members for a two week program.
ROBERT CREECH AND THE EARLY YEARS
By 1971, CYMC was gaining momentum. A large enrollment (105) necessitated the move to GP Vanier Senior Secondary School. The local council, tourism groups, service clubs and the Comox District Free Press got behind the effort. A “Friends of CYMC” support group was formed that became the volunteer nucleus of the growing organization.
By the mid seventies a total of 500 students attended the six week camp. “Summer Music in Courtenay” premiered and the faculty took on an international flavor with Maestro Kazayoshi Akiyama from Tokyo and acclaimed flautist Per Oien from Norway. Programs had expanded by then to include piano, voice, jazz, musical theatre, opera, dance and conducting. Ample funding kept student fees to a mere $60. Former students were invited to return as teaching assistants and college accredited courses were introduced in partnership with Vancouver Community College. The National Film Board included CYMC in its film, “Musicanada”. Canada Council (of which Creech was a member) helped fund the Opera Program with Nicholas Goldschmidt as director.
Before the end of the decade, “Summer Music” exploded into the community as student musicians performed in parks, schools, theatres, restaurants and street markets. Internationally acclaimed performers such as the Purcell String Quartet, David Zafer, Robert Silverman, Dave Robbins, Joel Quarrington, George Shearing and many more raised the young society’s profile. The concept of students performing side by side with faculty was introduced, a core philosophy implemented by Robert Creech which set CYMC apart from all other music camps of the day. In addition, an endowment was created with the Vancouver Foundation to fund scholarships and bursaries.
Charles Pearce became the first president of the newly formed society in the late 70’s and hired its first full time administrator in 1978.
This was a decade of continued growth but also of belt-tightening. Mr. Pearce implemented restructuring and tight controls over expenditures to deal with the $125,000 deficit he inherited from the rapid expansion through the seventies. Lieutenant Governor Robert G. Rogers became CYMC’s patron and Alice Bullen took over as President. Timothy Vernon conducted for the first time in 1981 and by 1985 was named Artistic Director when Robert Creech stepped down.
Jack Kent deserves special mention. When the accumulated debt was daunting and the Board of Directors voted to shut down the society and disperse the assets, Jack stood alone to say no. His efforts to rescue CYMC went far and beyond as he rallied to its defense and then stayed on to steward the turnaround.
New programs included children’s opera and Highland Bagpipe, and by mid-decade a record 8,300 individuals attended the CYMC performances. CYMC’s concerts were recorded for CBC’s “Arts National” program and a winter concert series began with Jon Kimura Parker, The Purcell String Quartet and New Orleans Connection. Vocal music flourished with the introduction of voice and song interpretation and a choral workshop performing Mozart’s “Coronation Mass”.
END OF A CENTURY
CYMC continued its tradition of bringing Canada’s finest musicians to Courtenay and the Comox Valley. They formed the backbone of the faculty and they brought music heard only in larger centres to Valley audiences. Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama stood at one end of the musical spectrum while Robert Silverman and Friends balanced the other. Artistic Director (AD) Timothy Vernon invited Jose-Luis Garcia, Spanish guitarist and Phil Nimmons, Patriarch of Canadian Jazz. Drew Kemp undertook both drama and musical theatre. David Zafer and Victor Costanzi enriched the string programs. Wayne Jeffery as AD from 1995 continued CYMC’S trademark appeal with “something for everyone”. CYMC proudly celebrated 30 years with over 10,000 students having passed through its doors and four to seven alumni in every major symphony orchestra in Canada.
The major challenge that CYMC faced through the years was where to host the camp. School District 71 provided this service for many years but accommodations were necessarily make-shift. Mount Washington’s unoccupied chalets were seen as the perfect solution and where better to situate divine music than on a mountain top. And so in 1997 the move was made “Up the Mountain”. It was a noble effort but, sadly, a financial disaster, and by 1999 the camp was installed at North Island College with Stephanie Spiers as Executive Director and Yariv Aloni, Artistic Director.
THE NEW MILLENNIUM
Betty Anne Hampton undertook the position of Executive Director in 2000 with three very ambitious goals:
- to eliminate the sizable inherited debt from the Mt. Washington venture,
- to develop a regional community orchestra and
- to produce a “Symphony by the Sea” for CYMC’s 40th Anniversary.
To her credit and with the help of many staff members and musicians she succeeded in all three goals. Musical theatre produced such box office hits as “Sweet Charity”, “Cabaret”, “Evita” and “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Jazz Elemental was added to introduce local youngsters to various jazz rhythms and local adult musicians were invited to perform along with students and faculty in orchestra and band concerts.
In 2008 Betty Anne left for other pursuits and there ensued several years where the Board of Directors stepped in to manage the Society (at times meeting weekly). An office administrator was hired seasonally to launch and run the camp. The financial crisis of 2008-2009 resulted in a substantial loss of student registration which forced the cancellation of the Classical camp in one instance and Jazz in another. Nevertheless, with perseverance and with careful attention to finances the tide finally turned. In 2011, Kate Ramsey stepped down from the Board of Directors to fill the empty position of Executive Director. Her dedication, tireless effort an d personal financial investment have all allowed CYMC survive these difficult times. With a preference for incremental growth, CYMC has been able to hold its own and grow on all fronts. When Dave Proznick (Director of Pacific Jazz) retired, Patrick MacGibbon, Lake Trail band instructor, stepped bravely up to the plate and Pacific Jazz became Island Jazz. Currently Dan Craven leads it with a great group of collaborative musicians from both Vancouver Island and Vancouver. In 2012, CYMC boasted its first ever all Island musical theatre faculty: Lori Mazey, Lindsay Sterk and Heather Burns. Starting with “Les Miserables” and continuing through to “Fiddler on the Roof” in 2016, this talented and beloved artistic team has raised the bar for performance and education in theatre arts year by year. When in 2014, the Classical Program faced cancellation due to a mysterious lack of registration, John Littlejohn, a consummate violinist with years of music camp experience in his background, was hired to bring it back from the brink. CYMC values the great contribution that John and his faculty are making to the Instrumental Program.
For 50 years CYMC has provided excellent music education in Classical, Jazz and Musical Theatre and has served as a platform for our young musicians, as well as esteemed professionals, to perform for the benefit of the Comox Valley community. But, as with any Arts organization, there is always the need for continued growth and development. CYMC’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations are an opportunity to showcase both our past achievements as well as our vision for the Society as we move into the future. In an age where the Arts are increasingly devalued, we are committed to bringing together exceptional Fine Arts professionals to educate and inspire the next generation of young performers.
The Fiftieth is also a wonderful opportunity for us to show our gratitude to all who have been involved over the past half century-as students, faculty, volunteers and staff, all of whom we are immensely proud. Thank you all.