Most professionals will admit that it took them a considerable amount of time, trial and error to experience that epiphanic moment. One that would pique their interest in something they’ve had a long-lasting passion for.
There’s no doubt that we all go through a process of soul-searching to decide which path on the fork of life we want to follow. For violinist and musician Yannick James, picking up the violin was a destiny waiting to be fulfilled.
His family originates from Babonneau. He attended the Leon Hess Comprehensive Secondary School (LHCSS) and then went on to study quantity surveying at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College (SALCC). Yannick is a familiar face on the St. Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival stage, performing for 13 consecutive years (2003-2016).
He has also performed at Tobago Jazz where he opened with Keyshia Cole, and at the World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar, Senegal (2010) in front of an audience of over 50,000! These performances have certainly gifted him with a tremendous amount of experience and exposure. But before he got to that point, it started at home, within the family.
Dazzle: What role has your family played in your development as a creative individual?
Yannick: I grew up in a family of musicians. From my great grandfather, grandfather, now my siblings and I are all involved in the field of music in one way or another. This was probably the key factor in me becoming a musician because it was so openly accepted within the family circles as not just a hobby, but an integral part of our lives. As you’d expect, they were always very nurturing and supportive of my musical efforts. In fact, my first instrument was bought for me by one of my older brothers as a birthday gift. And of course, it was the violin. Alongside the violin, I’ve had experience with the recorder, guitar and bass guitar. Initially, and still to this day, I’m inspired by my family, especially my older brothers.
Dazzle: What was your initial experience when picking up a violin?
Yannick: To be quite honest, it was a strange experience. Because of my fondness for music in general, it seemed completely natural to become well versed in playing an instrument, considering my older siblings and family were already so skilled in one instrument or another.
I did see other persons playing the violin and I thought to myself after I got mine, “I have one, now what do I do with it?” But from the time I saw it, I knew that there was no turning back and that this is what I wanted.
Dazzle: Tell us what the journey has been like, leading up to where you are now.
Yannick: It has been a mixture of emotions and experiences. One thing that hasn’t changed for me is that I’m constantly graduating from league to league, learning new things and evolving overall. My official introduction, though, was in a small orchestra organised by the Cultural Development Foundation at the St. Lucia School of Music. It was a trial period over a number of weeks where only the cream of the crop would move on upwards.
On several occasions I had to walk from the LHCSS (Leon Hess Comprehensive Secondary School) to town and then dart on-foot to Tapion if I had missed the bus, which left on the hour. This proved to be a trial for me as a student because if I had gotten to the School of Music past the entry time, I’d have risked been cut from the orchestra. But since it was something I refused to give up on, I was able to make it work. Fast-track past the trial period and I ended up being one of the leaders the orchestra! I’m currently a member of the local music bands ‘Gravity’ and ‘Skip Monday’.
Dazzle: When did you realise that music is the path you want to follow for the rest of your life?
Yannick: It was during the twilight of my days at Leon Hess, that time when every student is prompted to choose a career path. I too was faced with the conventional career choice of becoming a doctor, and also a quantity surveyor. While they did seem appealing, I chose the violin … I chose music. Years later, French violinist Gabriel Charles gave me a needed push, urging me to give my full time to music if I’m truly passionate about it. It was a worthwhile choice for me because I put every effort into passing my Grade 8- Violin performance held by the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM).
Dazzle: As a young musician, what challenges do you face and how do you conquer them?
Yannick: I faced my greatest challenge as a musician when I was only 25 years old. It was actually during that final exam set by the ABRSM held at the St. Lucia School of Music. Any student who has gotten to that level of examination will understand how tasking it can be to perform at the required level. What made my challenge unique is that I had no choice but to play with a sub-par instrument, which made the risk of failure even higher. Prior to taking the exam, I was heavily criticised for using the instrument I owned despite it being the only one I had at that point in time. Even though it appeared as if the odds were not in my favour, I persevered and passed that exam and used it as a huge motivator to further my craft. Thankfully, Mr. John Bailey (former Director at the SLSM) assisted me significantly in moving on from that point.
The constant challenge today is striving to be myself as a musician. My identity and brand are important to me as a musician and I can definitely attest to social media, google and hashtags being an effective tool to market your brand.
Dazzle: What are you aiming to accomplish in the next five years?
Yannick: First and foremost, to bolster my local presence as a musician. Becoming a musical icon just like those whom I’ve looked up to, and then to be that kind of inspirational figure for the next crop of young musicians. Alongside that, I hope to add Kerwin DuBois, Sedale Semei and Bunji Garlin to the list of artistes that I’ve collaborated with. When I’m satisfied that I’ve accomplished that goal, I plan on moving to England to be a part of a larger orchestral team … nothing specific as yet but that’s the plan!
The future definitely looks and sounds bright for Yannick! Here’s wishing him all the best and we hope he achieves all the goals he has set for himself.