NORTH BATTLEFORD —Home is where the heart is.
The above is an age-old quote, and yet Saturday afternoon, July 16, that echoed true within the walls of the Third Avenue United Church in North Battleford. Dozens gathered indoors despite the heat warnings outside to take in the second act of the Battlefords Proms, a collaboration series put forth by local star Cole Knutson.
The previous week saw the North Battleford product perform alongside Chinley Hinacay and Matthew Robinson in their “Going for Baroque” saxophone initiative.
For part two, Knutson was accompanied by two people whom he says are like family members, Jaya Hoy and Arlene Shiplett.
Family is often connected through lineage and familiar roots, and in the case of the three above, that’s right here in North Battleford and the Saskatchewan area.
The former is a well-renowned piano teacher in the Battlefords area, coming home to move in and take of her mother after playing across the world in countries like Austria, France, Germany and London as a solo performer and in chamber music.
“I knew I would be bored to tears unless I did something, so I started a piano studio.”
That is where Jaya was first able to cross paths with Knutson.
“I knew he was a completely natural musician. He has a brilliant mind. He recalls everything.”
It is something that both Knutson and Hoy, also referred to as “Chickie” locally, share in common. Hoy listened to the opera every single Saturday afternoon on CBC growing up. For her, classical music opened her mind.
“Classical music is I think one of the most extraordinary things that humankind has come up with to express very profound truths.”
Both the teacher and student laughingly recall how lessons would extend beyond that of mastering the piano, encompassing all facets of everyday life. Whether it be literature, food, theatre or curiosity about the workings of the world, the sanctuary of the church was a stepping stone to a grander stage.
“She (Jaya) made me realize when I was young if I wanted to go somewhere else in the world there was no reason why I shouldn’t if I was good enough and put in the work.”
Good enough was an understatement.
Arlene Shiplett, North Battleford born and raised, was coaching at the provincial level for The Saskatchewan Music Educator’s Honour Band when she first came across Knutson.
Shiplett, who among the least 10 or so tasks she listed as part of her current resume of work, comes from a long lineage of musical greatness in the North Battlefords area.
The “Veteran lots,” which ran on the east side of the city, through the 1950s and 70s according to Shiplett, had approximately 60 or so children go on to make a living in music.
For 30 years now, Shiplett has served as second horn in the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, while also currently being the horn instructor at the University of Saskatchewan.
Yet, funnily enough, the reasoning behind her success in the horn category was accidental. Shiplett recalls how in Grade 7 during compulsory band she sat in the horn section, and the instructor, knowing her ability to play the piano would match well with learning the horn, turned a voluntold situation into a life-long career.
Fast forward. The opportunity to teach, and having an extensive toolkit and solutions due to her ability to play essentially every band instrument fairly effortlessly, is a key hallmark of her success.
When it came to Knutson, there was already a working familiarity, having known his aunt and grandparents growing up. According to Knutson, it was she who first suggested many years ago to play the saxophone, which he still does today.
While Shiplett served in a mentor role at the provincial level, it was Knutson in turn, who provided a teaching moment for Shiplett.
During the early stages of the pandemic, Knutson, who was studying in London at the time, came back home. It was in this period that saw Knutson, Hoy and Shiplett all under one roof.
Knutson encouraged Shiplett to learn to lead again as a musician, reminding her to play musically again.
Here through the realities of the pandemic and long hours of work put in together, a stronger bond was forged.
"The chance to have someone at his level of international playing to say bring a stack of music was just amazing to me because everybody else during COVID didn’t get a chance to play together with other people,” says Shiplett.
After several seasons of the “Barefoot in the Log Cabin” series that was put on out at Jackfish Lake, the three were finally able to perform together to a larger audience, back where their ties weave through the notes performed in harmony all afternoon.
Knutson shared many of his lessons with Hoy in this very same church. Most of his days from age 13 onwards were seven- to eight-hour practices after school that would wane into the earlier mornings on his own. All this while being a kid going through their adolescent years.
Shiplett sang choir in the church as a young girl.
On this weekend afternoon though, despite all the national and international success the three have had, it was simply three North Battleford locals giving back to the community that has supported them all these years.
“We’re small town kids, and we still relate to people here like we’re small-town North Battleford kids.” says Hoy.
Each member of the audience was known in some way by the three artists, a tribute to the music talent and support of the town.
So many of those same artists that grew up on the veteran lots have come back into town, willing to help feed the next generation to the next level. “There’s pockets of amazingness. It’s making sure it continues,” Shiplett points out.
This past Saturday was just a small example of how interconnected, and in some ways familial, the music community in North Battleford really is. It was evident in their performance, with all three smiling and laughing throughout.
“I [Cole] can’t help but smile, because I’m really happy with what I am doing.”
Neither can the audience that continues to take in the Battlefords Proms. Next up, is a piano duet with Knutson and Hoy at 3 p.m. at Third Avenue United Church on July 23.
Arlene Shiplett says it’s one you don’t want to miss.
“If you get a chance to hear Jaya and Cole play, you just take it because you know you will have an outstanding experience in musicality and truly hear two people who play with such artistry. You really hear that, especially live.