Two Vancouver Island University jazz program graduates have won a competitive $2,000 scholarship named in memory of a renowned West Coast saxophonist.
Three days after Christmas, having made it past the first round of cuts, bassist Brock Meades and drummer Graham Villette were at UBC to audition for the Fraser MacPherson Scholarship. They backed up a guitarist and a saxophonist before finally auditioning for themselves in front of what VIU jazz instructor Hans Verhoeven called “a panel of some of the finest jazz musicians in B.C.”
After five months of waiting and anticipation, Meades and Villette finally got word in June that the two post-secondary scholarships were theirs. Verhoeven, who won the award when he was 19, said it’s been a while since the MacPherson has gone to a VIU student.
“I’ve been teaching at the university for seven years and this is the first time it’s happened since I’ve been teaching there…” he said. “It’s been in a bit of a down period for some time and then for these two to go out and win the two scholarships for post secondary is a huge indication that I think things are turning around and we’re entering a new, really exciting time.”
This was Villette’s third straight year applying for the award and his first time reaching the live audition stage. He said winning the scholarship on his third try “felt like a real accomplishment.”
“At least once every couple weeks we’d be like, ‘When are we going to hear about that Fraser thing? When are we going to hear about the Fraser?’ and it took a long time but when we found out it felt pretty good,” Villette said. “It was extremely satisfying.”
He added the scholarship will help fund his studies in the University of Toronto’s jazz performance masters program, which starts this fall.
Meades said he was “pretty amazed” when he learned he was getting the award.
“It’s something that I can’t explain in words,” he said. “It’s kind of mind-boggling, really, because you put all this time and energy into your art and your craft and to have something like that kind of come back at you is really rewarding.”
Meades said his goal is to establish himself as both an individual performer and a valuable accompanist and as a recent graduate, his prize money will be a boost to his nascent career.
“I just completed my bachelor’s degree at Vancouver Island University, so I’m looking forward to taking some time off and really just using that money to further my study on my own terms as well as make some moves in terms of my own career,” he said.
Verhoeven said Meades and Villette are good examples to younger musicians and their wins send a positive message about what people from smaller places can achieve.
“For me to be able to say this guy from Port Alberni or this guy from Mill Bay has done really well and they both just got these scholarships, that’s an incredible amount of time and investment to get to that point,” he said. “And so I think acknowledging that and giving other young people who are just going into high school examples of people who are dong what they love and being successful at it is a very important thing.”