Good vibrations: YSPF helps young musicians in National Capital Region

The YSPF has been running for over 20 years in the National Capital Region. Photo courtesy of YSPF. 

By Charlie Senack

The Young String Performers’ Foundation (YSPF) are gearing up for what they hope will be a successful season bringing music to live audiences once again. 

The organization, which is in their 21st year, saw a return to in-person concerts this past March. In the spring, when COVID-19 restrictions were gradually loosening, many concert goers were still uncomfortable being in big crowds. But with life now returning to normal, the foundation’s president said they are hoping for a lot of support from the community. 

“We exist because we want to give talented kids venues to perform,” said Joan Milkson, who also founded the Young String Performers’ Foundation. 

“Performance is the most important part of our mandate,” she added. “We sometimes arrange master classes [and] we provide a small bursary which at the moment has suffered quite a bit because during the pandemic [we] could not have live concerts.”

The charitable organization’s goal is to “create, provide, promote and subsidize opportunities that will develop the abilities of promising young string performers of the National Capital Region up to the age of 18,” according to its website. 

The foundation is always looking for ways to support young musicians, and has a string “Instrument Bank” where youth from low-income families can borrow professional-quality instruments like violins, violas, cellos, and basses.

They also seek out additional activities to help string performers with their skill development. In 2015, Milkson took 13 of her students to Vienna, Austria for an exchange with another music program. She said opportunities like that can unlock a world of possibilities for young musicians. 

“The one thing about music is it is a small circle of people, and when you are bringing up students, it is also important to supply them with the possibilities of collegiality amongst other young people,” she said. “They don’t get to see each other except two, three times a year. It builds up confidence, and it’s not competitive.”

The First Unitarian Congregation Church, located at 30 Cleary Ave., where the YSPF usually holds its annual concert series. Photo by Maureen McEwan. 

Every year, music teachers from across Ottawa choose their most talented, up-and-coming students to perform string instruments at the foundation’s concerts. They are typically held four times a year at The First Unitarian Congregation Church, located at 30 Cleary Ave. 

Milkson estimated that roughly 90 per cent of their students take music performance seriously and continue to pursue post-secondary education for their craft. The organization’s founder said many well-known names have gone through their program. 

All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m., with the first one of the year being held at the church on Oct. 29. Concerts will also be held on Jan. 28, and March 25, with their final fundraiser event of the season on June 10. 

“The highlight of this is that the level of performance is always not just very good but exceptionally good,” said Milkson. 

One of the YSPF’s central funding sources is its annual concert series. 

“Today, in this immediate post-pandemic period, donations are appreciated more than ever. One of our major sources of funding is the entrance fee for live concerts. Unfortunately, the pandemic eliminated this source of revenue for nearly two years,” the YSPF website states. “Under these circumstances, your support is appreciated more than ever.”

This season, concert ticket prices are $15 for adults, $5 for students, and free for anyone under 10 years of age. Tickets can be bought at the door or on the Young String Performers’ Eventbrite page. 

The YSPF also accepts community support through in-kind donations and donations of instruments. The Instrument Bank is accepting donations of high-quality violins, violas, cellos and double basses. 

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