Kessler Academy summertime program celebrates learning by example

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      The Kessler Academy takes its name from its major donor, philanthropist and music lover Susan Kessler, but draws its inspiration from a variety of different sources—some of them quite unexpected.

      The summertime program, now in its fifth year, addresses what violinist Marc Destrubé sees as a variety of gaps in conventional music education. “One of the things,” the violinist explains on the line from his Bowen Island home, “is that if young musicians don’t have the chance to go out of their schools to work in a professional setting, they don’t have the opportunity to learn how to put together a program in a very short time.…They don’t have to go in on day one and put on a concert three or four days later that’s fully polished. So experiencing that intensity of work is one gap that can be filled.”

      Destrubé, whose Microcosmos Quartet provides the core of the string-oriented program’s faculty, cites self-reliance and a sense of exploration as among the other qualities the Kessler Academy hopes to nurture. Working without a conductor, he explains, will ask students to sharpen their listening skills, while ending the session with a public performance of challenging 20th- and 21st-century music will expose them to some of the “really great music of our own time” that they might not otherwise encounter.

      This year, for instance, the Kessler Academy’s graduation recital will feature an all-Canadian program, ranging from the late Claude Vivier’s demanding and exciting Zipangu to new works by Vancouver composers Peter Hannan and Bradshaw Pack.

      Learning by example is also part of the summer school’s mandate. “One of the things I’ve discovered is that there are a hundred tiny skills that you can’t actually teach,” says Destrubé, citing jazz bassist Victor Wooten’s notion that we can learn music the same way we learn language, through osmosis. “We don’t sit down and learn how to speak,” he explains. “We just hang out with people who are good at it and who’ve been doing it for longer, and pick it up that way.”

      Microcosmos with Marc Destrubé (right)


      That this approach works can be seen in the career of violinist Aliayta Foon-Dancoes, a 2017 Kessler attendee who, after two years at the Royal Academy of Music, is now playing some of Europe’s most prestigious stages with the Echéa Quartet. “One thing that really stands out to me is being introduced to new composers,” Foon-Dancoes explains in a telephone interview from her parents’ East Vancouver home. “It’s really unique to go to a program where you’re exposed to new works, and especially where you get to work on that repertoire with people who know the composers personally. That’s a really exciting process.”

      The greatest gift, she continues, is being able to return to the Kessler Academy this summer as a mentor. She and the other members of the Echéa Quartet will join the Microcosmos players on the faculty, in addition to delivering two Music on Main concerts prior to the academy’s graduation recital. And, naturally, her former teacher couldn’t be happier.

      “They’ll be learning from us, as more established players, and the younger players will be learning from them and seeing that this is what happens when you work hard: you can go off to the Royal Academy and play in the great concert halls of the world,” Destrubé says. “And that, in itself, is a wonderful lesson for younger people.”

      Music on Main presents the Echéa Quartet at the Langley Community Music School on Tuesday (August 20) and at CBC’s Studio 700 next Wednesday (August 21). The Kessler Academy’s graduation recital, with the Microcosmos Quartet and the Echéa Quartet, takes place at Pyatt Hall next Saturday (August 24).