Music was the focus for 12 youth (day session) and 8 adults (evening session for 16+) every day from July 6th to 11th at the Grace Lutheran Church in Wetaskiwin. The Church was the venue for the 6th annual Wetaskiwin Jazz Camp created by professional musician, Karl Schwonik. The Camp is a unique opportunity to enable participants, and especially young musicians, to foster and grow their jazz music skills and knowledge. Also instructing at the camp was a special guest artist, Juno-nominated vocalist Karin Plato.
Schwonik is the President and Founder of the Wetaskiwin Jazz Society founded in 2008 in Wetaskiwin, AB. Although he now resides in Calgary, he continues with his role as the Artistic Director of the Wetaskiwin Jazz Camp. “Our Camp is unique as we are the only Jazz Camp outside the cities of Edmonton and Calgary. I started the Camp because when I moved away from Wetaskiwin, I was seeing all the stuff that was happening in Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and New York. I realized there are a lot of opportunities there. For young people pursing a music career, just about anything they want is there. Artists, teachers, and camps are there in abundance. It didn’t happen when I was in Wetaskiwin, so it takes someone like me to come back to Wetaskiwin and bring those opportunities to the community.”
Karl Schwonik grew up on a farm near Gwynne where he was exposed to countless musical situations ranging from polka to jazz. Although a relative youngster in the jazz idiom, Karl is emerging as one of Canada's brightest stars as both a sideman and leader. In addition to playing with the Hutchinson Andrew Trio, Karl has toured extensively with his own bands across both Canada and the United States. Schwonik has received numerous awards including being named one of Calgary's 'Top 40 Under 40' for 2009 by Avenue magazine. In addition, Schwonik has been featured in over 100 newspapers and magazines throughout North America.
Schwonik hasn’t parted with the values he acquired by living in a small community. “Growing up here, I love a small community and the pace of life. What happens in small towns that is truly fantastic, is the connection and value the community sees with the camps, even if they are small. And the support we have received from the community, whether it be financial, helping us getting the word out, volunteering, …there are countless ways we get help. A lot of large organizations have great staff and have great programs, but they have difficulty getting the support they would like. We have never had that issue in Wetaskiwin. We have been very lucky the people of Wetaskiwin have gotten behind our programs and supported us.
I went to Gwynne School where we had to take Band from Grade 5. Then when I got to Grade 9, I had to come into Wetaskiwin to Clear Vista where there was no music program, so I was able to walk over to the High School and take part in the very good band for 4 years instead of 3. I spent a lot of time with Paul Sweet (former Wetaskiwin Composite High School music director) and my colleagues. Paul taught us that in addition to music, entrepreneurism and volunteerism is important. At the time I didn’t pay much attention to it. It is what it is. But looking back on it, there is a lot of spirit of volunteerism Paul brought to a lot of students. He’d always tell us, this music program you are enjoying, whatever it might be, isn’t part of the curriculum. This isn’t part of the class. This is after school, and you are volunteering your time, and everyone is getting enjoyment from it and hopefully appreciating it. As time goes by, you’ll reflect on that and say the spirit of volunteerism is really important.”
Schwonik shared his views on the value of music programs, “There are 2 sides to this; the scientific research side which identifies very specific and technical values music programs provide. The other side is the creative side. The skills and knowledge students acquire such as creativity, working with your colleagues, finding a common goal and taking steps towards that common goal. These are skills they will continue to use for many more years even if they stop playing.”
He goes on to explain that Jazz music provides an additional skill, improvising. All musicians are expected to improvise and compose (write) music. These skills are very creative and very challenging. So they need to do the technical part and then apply that using their own creativity to come up with something that is coherent and playable.”
The Wetaskiwin Jazz Society is a non-profit arts organization dedicated to Jazz Education. Being formed in 2008, the WJS regularly presents live concerts, school workshops and the annual Wetaskiwin Jazz Camp. The Society and its Board of Directors strive to build the awareness for the arts, music and especially Jazz in the Central Alberta region and beyond. With amazing support from the community, the WJS has showed continual growth since its inception.