Kyle Jensen / The Record — Marley Erickson rehearses one of the six cantos written by South Whidbey composer Jerry Mader.

Next generation of young musicians takes over WICA

Langley has the opportunity to witness some of South Whidbey’s next crop of talented young musicians in action, as the youngsters go center stage Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA) next weekend.

Young performers such as 2010 South Whidbey High School graduate Eric Vanderbilt-Matthews, 24, and Langley’s own 13-year-old violin prodigy, Marley Erickson, will perform on March 17 and 18 respectively. Vanderbilt-Matthews will play as part of the newest member of gypsy jazz band Hot Club of Troy, while the teenage Erickson will play a solo show.

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The two WICA performers are only a couple of the young musicians to emerge from South Whidbey over the past few years, and it has other island-based musicians and area instructors wondering if there’s something in the water.

“There are a lot of very talented artists down here and we all support each other,” Hot Club of Troy founder and guitarist Troy Chapman said. “Whenever a younger talent leaves the island, it leaves us crying, but then another talent comes along a few months later. That’s just how it seems to work.”

Erickson and her violin have had a whirlwind past two years. She traveled across the Atlantic last April to take part in the Menuhin Competition in London, which is hailed by some as the “Olympics of the violin” for young musicians. She faced off against 21 other violinists from around the globe, and was watched by famous faces in the crowd, including Prince Charles.

In 2015, Erickson won the Seattle Symphony Youth Artists Audition. Her victory landed her an opportunity to perform a solo with the symphony, one of a number of solo orchestral performances that include collaborations with the Ottawa Chamber Symphony and Mitteleuropa Orchestra in Palmanova, Italy. Despite her successes and promising abilities, Erickson remains humble and reserved in her demeanor. She added she still gets a bit nervous, too.

“Even though this is my home stage, preparing has been much more stressful than usual,” said Erickson with a laugh. “I’ve had to perform much less repertoire in other solo performances, since most were under 30 minutes. I’m going to be on the stage for a little less than two hours next Saturday.”

For Vanderbilt-Matthews, playing with Hot Club of Troy comes with relative ease. That’s at least according to Chapman, who says the 2015 University of Washington Jazz Studies graduate has the ability to improvise with musicians he’s never played with. That ability to improvise is indicative of a quality jazz musician, and perfectly suits the gypsy jazz style that Django Reinhardt brought to a global audience. It also explains how he manages to perform as a sideman for more than a half dozen bands. Vanderbilt-Matthews is now considered a fulltime member of Hot Club of Troy, and brings a completely different aspect to their sound as he incorporates piano, clarinet and both alto and tenor saxophone.

“Eric is just one of the most talented musicians I’ve played with, period; he could be 60 and I’d say the same thing,” Chapman said. “We’re not doing this because he’s young and we want to give him exposure. If anything, he’s giving us exposure.”

So what’s South Whidbey doing to foster this talent?

Chapman credits the community’s support for much of the musical and artistic talent South Whidbey generates. He says the area truly appreciates local artists, and large amounts of people are willing to pay to watch local musicians perform, something he says isn’t always common in other areas of the country. Chapman calls South Whidbey the “perfect biosphere” for raising artists, and Vanderbilt-Matthews echoes that sentiment.

“Basically, I see South Whidbey as this kind of ideal arts utopia in my opinion,” Vanderbilt-Matthews said. “The community is so supportive of their local artists, and it fosters a sense of art, not just music.”

South Whidbey composer Jerry Mader, who wrote six pieces for Erickson at her request, gives much of the credit to the area’s instructors and music teachers. Good instructors give direction and grab the student’s attention, however they manage to do so, he said. South Whidbey has that in teachers such as South Whidbey Jazz Band teacher Chris Harshman and Island Strings instructor Linda Good, both instructors Vanderbilt-Matthews gave particular praise for.

But Mader says sometimes, “unusual” talents like Erickson emerge.

“What I want from the rest of my days is to support the things that are unusual,” Mader said. “A lot of people are technical, but very few artists live and breathe the music. It’s my job as an artist and teacher to recognize who those people are, and that’s very important to me.”

Contributed photo — Eric Vanderbilt-Matthews (right) performs with Hot Club of Troy at the Oak Harbor Music Festival. Right to left: Vanderbilt-Matthews, Kristi O’Donnell, Troy Chapman and Keith Bowers.

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