Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council
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NLAC Arts Awards

2011 Patron of the Arts: Heather McKinnon
2011 Arts in Education Award: Christina Smith

The 27th annual Arts Awards took place Saturday, April 28, 2012 at the Joseph R. Smallwood Arts and Culture Centre in Gander, NL.

Heather McKinnon

Ruth McKinnon
Heather McKinnon

A true patron of the arts, Heather McKinnon is a strong supporter and volunteer for a number of arts organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador.  For 15 years, she has generously provided her time and talents to groups that include the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonic Choir of the NSO, Cantus Vocum Chamber Choir, and For the Love of Learning.

Heather is, in fact, a founding board member for Cantus Vocum and has sat on the boards for each of the other aforementioned organizations at one time or another.  She is not only regularly referenced as a reliable and vibrant volunteer - Heather takes part in the Philharmonic Choir of the NSO as a member of the alto section – putting money where her mouth is, getting directly involved.

The NSO’s annually anticipated presentation of Handel’s Messiah at the Basilica also has Heather’s touch. The large choir requires eighty-plus seats at the front, and given the presentation isn’t at a performance venue, Heather steps in to provide the chairs every year.  On top of that, she oversees their delivery, setup, and return; Heather’s well-known as a go-getter who takes care of business, often doing more than her fair share of stage setup in general.

Heather also makes the most of her role as the Operations Manager with the Delta Hotel and Conference Centre (St. John’s), ensuring that corporate sponsorship gets as much mileage as possible.  She has commendations for her dedicated support from the NSO, TaDa Events, Our Divas, the Newfoundland Screech Comedy Festival, the Tuckamore Festival, Memorial University’s School of Music, Shallaway and Festival 500.  Still this isn’t an exhaustive list, and each of these organizations partially attributes their longevity to Heather’s support.

Q and A with Heather McKinnon...

NLAC: How did you get started with your involvement in the arts community and what keeps you motivated to stay so invested?

Heather McKinnon: My involvement as a patron began in 1997. I had recently returned home from Toronto to live and joined the NSO Philharmonic Choir. Chad Stride was our accompanist and was starting his own chamber choir Cantus Vocum. He asked me to be on the board of directors. That was my first foray into involvement in a governance/advisory capacity and I served for 10 years. During my term as President of the NSO Philharmonic Choir, I was automatically appointed to the NSO Board of Directors in an ex officio capacity. When my term was up, the chair of the board invited me to stay on in 2004. I’m still on the board, now serving as the Vice-Chair – Fundraising.

I find it easy to keep motivated when you witness the success the organizations have on a local level and especially on a national and international level. Choirs like Cantus Vocum are great ambassadors for the province and they travel internationally every two years. The NSO has a solid reputation and is able to attract big name soloists on a consistent basis, not because they can afford to, but because these artists like to play with the NSO and admire their spirit.

NLAC: Why is it important for members of the community to get so involved like you do?  

Heather McKinnon: I believe that our culture defines us as a province, so the more we can do to help arts organizations survive the better it is for our province - economically and culturally. A thriving arts scene makes it a better place to live and visit. I read an article in Macleans recently which proved the economic impact that the arts have on an economy and why it makes good business sense to invest in the arts.  

NLAC: What do you get out of your involvement with the groups you’re a member of that you perform with as well?

Heather McKinnon: Due to my work schedule, my performing opportunities are limited to singing with the NSO Philharmonic Choir. We perform Messiah every year, sometimes on the road and usually one or two other works with the NSO per season. And, every second year, we participate in Festival 500. I adore being part of that choir. The stresses of the week melt away at rehearsals, and I feel fulfilled when singing a big work. Sr. Katherine Bellamy introduced us to Oratorio music in high school, and what a privilege it was to be educated by her. From that moment on, I was certain that this was the type of music I wanted to perform. I could sing a requiem every week if the opportunity was there.   I’m so grateful that I am still able to have music in my life and be an active participant, despite the fact that I did not choose music as a career. It was a huge part of my youth.

NLAC: What does the Patron of the Arts award mean to you?

Heather McKinnon: The Patron of the Arts award is a huge honour; I’m very grateful and feel very privileged to be among the names that are listed, especially since I am not independently wealthy. Although if I was, I would make a good philanthropist! My employer - Delta St. John’s Hotel/Fortis Properties - provides much of the support from a corporate perspective that allows me to support the arts projects that mean so much to me. They also give me the flexibility with my working hours, to devote so much of my personal time to the boards on which I sit, because it often involves commitment during regular business hours. We like to joke that being NSO Vice-Chair is my other full-time job.

Being named patron of the arts meant that the organizations that I support really recognize and appreciate my efforts, although it’s not the reason I do it. After the awards, I received so many notes of congratulations from people in the arts community that it was almost overwhelming. It was nice though.

NLAC: How do you hope to continue with the arts in the future with your support and involvement?

Heather McKinnon: Well, I certainly hope to continue to sing with NSO choir, as long as they will have me, and I’ll continue to support the arts organizations that I serve as long as I’m able and have the means to do so, in a way that is beneficial to them. One of my big projects is the NSO Hibernia Gala which pairs the orchestra with pop/rock artists who wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to play with a symphony. And, Mark Critch donates his services as host. So many of my musician friends have donated their time to this event, and I’m able to persuade them to do it, because I have supported them in many other ways. But what I enjoy witnessing every year is their reaction to hearing their music with a 50 piece “band” behind them. It makes it all worthwhile. This is the project I hope to be able to continue in its current format for many years.

Christina Smith

Christina Smith
Christina Smith

Christina Smith has been playing music since her childhood, growing up in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador. Her formal training includes a Bachelor of Music Degree, an Artistic Diploma in Cello Performance, and the Suzuki Cello Teachers Degree from the Talent Education Institute in Matsumoto, Japan. Although she’s an accomplished classical celloist and violinist, she is best known for her work in traditional folk music.

She has appeared on the recordings of Newfoundland artists including Emile Benoit, The Irish Descendants, Buddy Wassisname and the Other Fellers, Jim Payne, Jean Hewson and Harry Martin, as well as some anthologies of Newfoundland music. Christina has also performed in videos for Emile Benoit, Heather and Eric, and Dermot O’Reilly, as well as in the CODCO film, The Adventures of Faustus Bidgood. Her recordings have earned her ECMA nominations and the Ernie King Tradition Bearer Award. Christina has toured across Canada, in the United States, Mexico, Japan, the British Isles and Europe.

Christina is the Artistic Director of the Suzuki Talent Education Program of St. John’s and the Atlantic Canada Suzuki Institute and she has given workshops in Newfoundland fiddling and instrumental music in the United States, across Canada, and locally. With her great passion for Newfoundland fiddling, she directs the STEP fiddlers, a group of 8 to 17 year olds. Christina’s authored two volumes of an educational publication, Inshore Fiddling, Volume One and Two among others.

Q and A with Christina Smith...

NLAC: Looking at your impressive performing past, how did the transition to arts education happen?

Christina Smith: The education and the performing aspects of my career grew in tandem.  When I was doing my degree I didn’t really consider teaching. But, when the new Suzuki Talent Education Program of St. John’s contacted me while finishing my degree in 1982, it seemed like a way to make a living at home.  I didn’t want to have to move away.  So I went and got some Suzuki training, came back and started learning – about my culture and about teaching at the same time. 

In the early 80’s there was an urban myth in St. John’s that if you taught music you weren’t a “real musician.”   Real musicians were supposed to be dedicated to their art – to go on the road and starve.  Thank goodness that attitude has changed!  My feeling has always been that teaching or mentoring is something every artist should do, because culture - especially traditional culture - lives in people.  It has to go through you – it’s no good just writing it down and handing it to someone.  Culture is created by human interaction.

NLAC: What are some of the most rewarding aspects of teaching youth and sharing the arts with them?

Christina Smith: I really enjoy the enthusiasm of young people discovering things for the first time.   It’s great when a little person “gets it” after struggling with something for awhile – I love to watch the rush of achievement they so obviously feel.  I find teaching adults rewarding too – they have a huge dedication to the music and are learning because they love it and want it in their lives.  The most rewarding though, is to be at a session and hear a traditional tune played that I learned from an older musician and taught to others, one that otherwise would probably have died out.  I might be the only person in the room that knows how the tune survived.  It’s a great feeling!

NLAC: What does the Arts in Education award mean to you?

Christina Smith: A lot of stuff I’ve done has been fairly invisible - behind the scenes and with no credit, or not much.  I made up fiddle teaching materials in the early 80s which circulated pretty widely - there are still copies of those hand-written tunes floating around!  I’ve had people come to me for fiddle lessons and put them on my music stand, not having any idea that I’d done them.  And the uncountable hours of volunteer work I put in through the 90s to sustain the Suzuki program, at some points doing all the administrative work as well as directing it. So, the Arts in Education award to me feels like recognition not just of my teaching career but also of all the unnoticed things I’ve done to keep things going because I believed something was worth saving or worth nurturing.  There are a lot of us in the arts doing this kind of invisible work for little or no pay and not much thanks – we do it because it makes life better for everyone.  I don’t think having the award will change things, really, at least I hope it won’t!

NLAC: Can you briefly explain what Suzuki is all about and your role with the institute?

Christina Smith: Suzuki Method, or Mother Tongue Method, as Suzuki Sensei preferred to call it, is a way of nurturing music in young children. Suzuki had a kind of genius for observing the obvious – he realized that small children learn from their environment. No one is ever formally taught to speak but everyone learns how and, unless there is a disability present, nobody fails.  So he reasoned that if you create as rich an environment for music (or for anything else) as a child has for speech, the child will learn it as easily and naturally as they learn their mother tongue.  He was right.  At the moment, I’m the Artistic Director of the Suzuki Talent Education Program of St. John’s.

NLAC: What are some of your future goals for your own arts career and as an educator?

Christina Smith: I’ve recently picked up the Viola da Gamba again after a gap of 30 years – I’m really enjoying it and getting back into performing baroque music.  I’d really like to keep that up, and perhaps teach some others to do it.  It’s a bit lonely being the only Viola da Gamba player on the island!  Jean Hewson and I are working up some new material that may wind up in another album if CDs are still around when we get time to record it.

Passing along the Newfoundland and Labrador tunes is really important to me. I’m responsible for the Newfoundland fiddling classes in the Suzuki program - we have a performing group called the STEP fiddlers - and I teach fiddle with the Shallaway Choir. With the support of MMaP (The Research Centre for Music, Media and Place) Jean and I have been running a Thursday evening course in Newfoundland tunes, called Partridgeberry Jam.  Fiddlers learn a tune, guitar players learn the chords and then we have a jam session together.  I’ve been mulling over how to provide the community with more opportunities to learn Newfoundland and Labrador traditional music.