Rock Island: What is the Make Music Happen Conference and how did it come into existence?
Paul Heppleston: Make Music Happen is a two-day songwriting and performance conference where young, aspiring musicians workshop their songs with experienced musicians. Students also learn about other aspects of music, such as DIY recording, professionalism, and sound/instrument choices. Make Music Happen came into existence while day-dreaming about next-steps for my performers. My youth music project, Mr. H Presents, already had several regular series on the go. Always keen to invite musician-friends into my classrooms, I have seen the effect visiting professional musicians have on students. Using Jerry Stamp as my sounding board (Jerry had already been a guest in a number my classes and at a number of my events), I got to work on the biggest undertaking I had ever faced. Since Mr. H Presents had, up to that point, operated on a zero-dollar budget, planning an event costing several thousand dollars made for a big lump in my throat.
RI: What kind of sessions are a part of the conference?
Mr. H: In small groups, students do three 90-minute songwriting workshop sessions, each with a different workshop leaders. This year's leaders were Adam Baxter, Bryan Power, Jody Richardson, and Kat McLevey - an exciting lineup, for sure. Though I give some suggestions about what could get covered in each, I don't want to be prescriptive. As long as the students get some insight into different songwriting methods, and get to try those methods out with a little feedback from the leaders, I'm happy. There are also four 30-minute sessions focused on various aspects of making music which are lead by local professionals like Dave Connors, Nick Hamlyn, and Tom Cochrane. Beyond the formal workshop sessions, there's a songwriters circle concert (featuring the four professionals), a student showcase (featuring the students themselves), and some downtime which, I was very pleased to see, lead to fervent practice and collaborations.
RI: Tell us a little bit about the talent that exists with young artists in this Province.
Mr. H: It shouldn't be a surprise to anybody who knows about the rich artistic tradition of Newfoundland and Labrador that there are young people making wonderful music. On a monthly basis, at our Open Stage for the Underage, students wow me with their skills, as vocalists, multi-instrumentalists, and composers; students have also impressed me with their willingness to step outside of themselves - to take chances on developing new skills. After almost six years doing shows in the Corner Brook area, I took my first show to Stephenville, and a whole new group of performers from that area wowed me too.
RI: This conference has been a success each year so far. Are there any plans for expansion in the future?
Mr. H: Well, since this was our first year running a two-day conference, nothing comes to mind right now - I'm pretty content with what we offered - but we will revisit that this winter when we start planning for Make Music Happen 4.
RI: What is the best part about working with these young musicians?
Mr. H: Music is such a big part of my life - it's a life essential, really - and I know how vital it has been to my growth as a person, so when I watch a young person performing, I'm also watching them grow. I love that I get to witness that. To be a part of their stories.