Bringing Dreams and Aspirations to the Prairies

Most professional classical and world music concerts take place in larger cities, due to transportation costs, audience size and performers' familiarity with locations. Prairie Debut aims to remove those barriers so both rural and urban audiences can experience exceptional music close to home.

Prairie Debut develops tours for Canadian musicians and helps bring them to communities of all sizes throughout Western Canada. It began in 1995 as a collaboration among provincial arts funders in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, community presenters, and the Canada Council for the Arts. "There was an overwhelming response, because communities want to bring in classical and world music," says Lynne Bailey, executive director of Prairie Debut, "but they were hesitant because they felt they didn't have the knowledge or expertise to evaluate who to bring."

The organization makes it easy for local presenters by taking care of logistics. Prairie Debut puts out an open call for musicians, adjudicates applicants via jury, develops tours and works with provincial network organizations - such as the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils - to schedule concerts. It supports artists by covering travel costs associated with the tour - even buying airplane seats for cellos - and ensuring communities pay appropriate professional rates.

Bringing Dreams and Aspirations to the Prairies

Prairie Debut also bridges the gap between musicians and audience members. "We work with touring artists so they understand that some of the communities they're going to aren't familiar with the genre, and may never have seen the instrument before," says Bailey. "They can talk easily and comfortably with audiences about their music, where it comes from and what it means to them. It makes these concerts more accessible to everyone."

In 2013/14, Prairie Debut presented two tours to eight Saskatchewan communities, reaching 1,800 audience members. Whenever possible, school shows, workshops and master classes for local music students are scheduled alongside concerts. Bailey says this is particularly important, as the professional arts fuels amateur arts in communities: "Little kids who are hockey players can dream to play in the NHL because they've see it on TV. Little musicians can't always dream, because they haven't seen it. We are bringing dreams and aspirations to young people across the Prairies."

Prairie Debut receives funding for its Saskatchewan activities from the Saskatchewan Arts Board's Culture on the Go program and OSAC. Culture on the Go is funded through an agreement with the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport.

OSAC receives funding from the Provincial Cultural Organizations Global Grant program. The program is administered by the Arts Board under the terms of a partnership agreement with SaskCulture Inc. and funded by the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation.

Front page and right: Guy Few and Nadine Mackie Jackson, a duo that performs on trumpet, corno and piano with bassoon. Photo: Bo Huang.

Above: musica intima, an eight-person vocal chamber ensemble. Photo: Wendy D Photography.