They may move in different musical worlds – but they’re on the same page when it comes to giving back through music.
White Rock violinist Julie Lin won national recognition this year as one of Canada’s best young classical musicians and seems destined for high-level mentorship in one of a select group of prestigious music academies.
Singer-keyboardist Ben Dunnill, has won attention through high-profile talents searches and is already well on the way to a solid musical career at the other end of the musical spectrum – as house lounge pianist-vocalist at Bin 101 and as a recording artist about to release Run – a first album of original songs.
But when the two friends, still only 16 and still in Grade 11, enthralled residents of Peace Arch Hospital’s Weatherby Pavilion with the Erroll Garner standard, Misty, on Dec. 15, the differences in idiom didn’t matter a whit.
“I knew the song – I’ve played it before and I like it,” said Lin, a White Rock Christian Academy student.
“I think it suits the violin – and everybody knows the tune. It’s a legato melody that really works with the piano.”
Lin’s sensitive lyrical phrasing of the familiar melody, over Dunnill’s jazz-inflected chordings forged a connection with the seniors that didn’t need to be articulated – it could be read in body language and attitude.
It was just one of the highlights of a “mini Christmas/back-in-the-day”- themed concert organized for the Weatherby residents by Lin and Dunnill, also featuring two of Lin’s fellow WRCA students, Sydney Klassen and Johanna Smith.
Solos by Lin were interspersed with Christmas songs by Klassen and Smith, while Dunnill improvised from his extensive repertoire of standards.
For them all, the joy of using their talents to connect with elders was reward enough for their efforts, Dunnill said.
“It’s nice when it doesn’t have to be an ego thing, when you’re playing for people who love music,” the Earl Marriott Secondary student said. “Although Julie and I play completely different styles, it’s all music. It doesn’t have to be about getting paid.”
When Dunnill asked for requests from the crowd, many couldn’t be sure of titles and lyrics, they said.
“But from the first couple of bars of On The Sunny Side Of The Street, their faces lit up – they were right with us,” Dunnill said.
The two performers – who have been friends since they were in Grade 7 – also welcomed the show at Weatherby as a natural chance for collaboration over the Christmas holidays.
Formerly a community member of the Kwantlen Polytechnic University-based AJA Trio – which scored a first place win in August in the chamber music category of the 45th annual National Music Festival – Lin said she must focus more on solo work in her last years of high school, preparing for university auditions.
Dunnill is also focused on a solo career through his recording projects as well as a busy schedule of gigs – around 180 per year – although he enjoys collaborating with others.
“The opportunity doesn’t come around a lot – it’s nice sometimes to work with other people and get their input on things.”
“In rehearsal, if you’re alone and focused on things it becomes so systematic,” Lin said. “Working with Ben on jazz and other styles influences how I look at the classical repertoire and the emotion it inspires.”
They’d like to do more similar performances together when their busy schedules allow they said.
But, as performers who have won their share of attention and prizes, they said it has occurred to them that there is a great and largely untapped opportunity for musically-talented youth on the Semiahmoo Peninsula in arranging similar showcases – particularly for elders in retirement and care homes.
It’s a great way for young performers to jump-start their own careers, and give back to the community as well, they added.
“A lot of it is about being driven – some people may be talented but they don’t necessarily have the drive to do it,” Dunnill said.
“A lot of people really lack the confidence. I know so many great singers who want to be a rock star, but they’re not – to use the cliche – putting in the mileage.
“You can get a lot of great experience playing retirement homes – I personally love playing them.”
The power music has to lift the weight of age and infirmity is inspiring, they said – and the audience reaction to just the first few notes of music can be transformative.
“There’s a whole atmosphere you get from people who love hearing the music so much,” said Lin. “And once you get started, it’s easier to do – it’s taking that first step.”