The heat of a summer afternoon at Camp Alexandra seems to inspire lazy contemplation – not intense concentration.
But at the camp’s upstairs rehearsal space, on July 29, a tight schedule at the Sumner and Black Youth Performance Workshop leaves no time to drift.
Impassioned vocalizing, and a meshing of guitar, keys, bass and drumbeats ring through the still air, punctuated by the good-natured prompts and encouragements of guitarist Jim Black.
“You notice how the A chord with a different bass note gives an old, gospel sound?” he says to the dozen students listening to him work out a sketch arrangement of Alicia Keys’ This Girl Is On Fire, in collaboration with singer Jenny Kalicharan, 16, and her sister, pianist Kristen Kalicharan, 19.
After a run-through is greeted by applause, he asks the participants of for constructive criticism on how the band is doing backing the vocal.
“Louder!” calls one of the boys.
“Right,” agreed Black. “I think the band’s got to drop heavier.”
A consultation with workshop partner Brian Sumner, controlling speaker levels, helps determine the keyboard’s place in the mix with Kristen.
“Where’s your volume at?” Black asks.
“About 75 per cent,” she says.
“That’s good,” he says. “It’s always a good idea to have your own volume at 75 per cent – otherwise you have nowhere left to go and you have to rely on someone else to do it for you.”
The rapt attention of the youthful participants – and respectful silence while others are rehearsing – is particularly notable, especially for the concluding hours of a three-day marathon. Staying focused on sharpening performance skills might challenge much more seasoned performers to stay on-track.
But there is a definite motivating agenda for the workshop – the group, which includes some of the Peninsula’s most promising youth talents, all want to be best-foot-forward for a showcase concert as part of White Rock’s Sea Festival.
It’s also notable as a partnership of two locals with considerable performance experience under their belts and an eagerness to impart some of their accumulated know-how to younger performers.
Black is well known as leader of funk/jazz group The Star Captains and co-ordinator of entertainment for last weekend’s Sea Festival, while Sumner – of noted alt-country band the Sumner Brothers – also trains youth performers in ongoing sessions and workshops at Sumner Brothers Studios.
Helping out at the workshop – and joining Black’s guitar to create a professional back-up band for the budding musicians – are electric bassist Jeremy Sheeska and drummer Matt Skepasts.
All of the workshop leaders are volunteering their time for the students, Black notes.
“Volunteering is the only way to make sure this is done with the right intentions for the community,” he says during a brief break.
He explains that all of the performers – ranging from 12- year-old guitarist Margaret Armstrong to more experienced youth musicians like Ava Carich, Richard Tichelman and Ruby Gawthrop – are working on both a solo song and one with band backing.
“Yesterday, the whole day, we worked without the band, going through the songs and all the chord changes.
“Today, we’re adding the band and working out arrangements. There are some original compositions and some cover songs. We’ve been adding sections, raising parts and making sure it all fits. That’s been a big lesson.”
He turns to the participants.
“Did you guys think that rehearsing was like this?” he asks.
“It’s pretty challenging. It’s a profound test to perform songs in front of people on stage. People think you just get up there and do your thing.”
But it’s clear the participants are gleaning a benefit from the process.
Singer-guitarist Brittney Bennett, 16, said she appreciates that Black and Sumner have ensured that everyone in the group has input and a chance to observe the others work on their numbers.
“It’s a lesson for me to listen to everyone else, absorbing everything that’s going on. It’s great to be together in a group where everyone is the same as you and interested in the same thing.”
“We all, or most of us, know each other,” Carich adds.
“It’s not a drag listening to each other.”