As part of our mission to archive the making of Preville’s online summer camp, we’ve asked Préville General Director, Veronica Thomas, a few questions about how and why the camp came to be.
What made you decide to create this online camp?
We decided to create the online summer camp in response to health and safety concerns we had regarding COVID-19. It was a really hard decision to make because at the time when we had to decide what to do we had no idea what the government would allow with regards to summer camps. In the end, in-person day camps were allowed to run, but because our camp has traditionally been so big (400-500 kids over six weeks), and large parts of the day are spent indoors, sharing space and equipment, we felt that in order to provide a truly safe learning environment, from the perspective of the current pandemic, that we would adapt and create on online version of our summer camp. We were lucky because once the pandemic hit, in March of this year, many of our teachers decided to continue their classes online in the Spring session. So, some of our teachers were already comfortable with online teaching, and our partners in Robot in a Can had already started working on a platform that would make arts-based teaching online more dynamic.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
For the most part, even though there have been challenges and we’ve been working hard, the positivity of our network of people has helped immensely to smooth any bumps along the way. This is something new, so one challenge is to communicate what we are doing in a clear and engaging way—and that started with trying to communicate the idea to potential teachers. The exciting part has been all of the brainstorming and networking that brings us to where we are today. Initially we had to target our course offerings according to what we felt would work well online and who we could find to teach it competently and enthusiastically. That was our first step—to get the class offerings and staff in place.
We have faced challenges of how large class sizes could be without compromising audio or video quality. We’ve learned how to lower the video quality when we need to have really strong audio. We are learning how to communicate to parents regarding common issues and how to fix them, with our FAQ page, as well as our tech support room that is built into the camp platform. Our camp manager sends emails to parents before camp starts with all of the information they’ll need to get their kids to class.
We’ve learned to provide microphones to teachers so that they can clearly communicate with students. Not being in-person, clear communication is the biggest challenge and our primary concern. So, audio quality and wifi connection have been issues we’ve been tweaking along the way. Being a bilingual camp means that we need to make sure that any unilingual campers are able to understand and participate fully. We ask at the beginning of each week which language the campers are most comfortable in and then the teachers can accommodate. The monitors are also a huge resource in terms of helping with any language or other communication issues that arise.
In the past we’ve found that word of mouth is our best marketing resource. So, starting something new means that you don’t already have that buzz of something that is well known and well loved — which was the case with our in-person summer camp that had been going strong for decades. We worked really hard to get the word out on social media, in Montreal Families and with postering and email blasts. Now in week three, we are starting to see word of mouth begin to work for us as well. That’s very gratifying.
Finally, what is the most rewarding thing that has come out of this experience so far?
It’s definitely seeing artwork, stories, cool digital art, dancing, songs—every room is bursting with creativity and these are memories that we will all carry forward, along with new-found skills and hopefully friends as well. It’s so fun for us to see our Préville community extending beyond driving distance—to all over the island of Montreal, Laval, and even outside of the province, as far away as British Columbia!
It was a risk to try this out, and seeing it take shape and take flight is rewarding for all of us.
Veronica Thomas studied violin with Hratchia Sevadjian and Stephen Kondaks and was a finalist at the Quebec and Canadian Music Competitions many times over. She also took first place at the Prix d’Expression Musicale in 1984 and 1986. At 19, straight out of school, she won an audition for Solo Second violin with the Orchestre des Jeunes du Québec where she worked with such conductors as Simon Streatfield, Uri Mayer and Franz-Paul Decker.
She also had the opportunity to be a member of the Jeunes Virtuoses de Montréal under the direction of Alexander Brott. Veronica has played with the Orchestre Symphonique de Trois-Rivières, was Solo Second Violin with the Laval Symphony Orchestra for over 20 years, and is Assistant Concertmaster with the Orchestre des Grands Ballets Canadiens. She has been a regular alternate at l’Orchestre Symphonique de Québec as well as with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa.
Veronica is a respected chamber musician; she was a founding member of the Ottawa String Quartet and was Assistant Concertmaster in La Pietà with Angèle Dubeau, with whom she can be heard on several recordings. She was Solo Second Violin in the Ensemble Appassionata and played regularly with members of the New York Chamber Soloists at the Vermont Mozart Festival. Veronica has been a regular member of the renowned McGill Chamber Orchestra (Orchestre classique de Montréal) where she has held the position of Assistant Concertmaster and Solo Second Violin. She was also a founding member and first violin with the Montreal Quartet who were quartet-in-residence at the Kincardine Music Festival for several years.
Veronica has recorded and shared the stage with numerous Jazz and Pop artists such as Céline Dion, Michel Legrand, Dave Brubeck, George Benson and Barbra Streisand, to name a few. She has also been a respected studio musician for the past 30 years, recording albums with numerous artists as well as music for television and film.
Veronica also recorded and performed as a Tango violinist with l’Ensemble Tango de Montréal and l’Ensemble Tango Romulo Larrea.
Throughout her career Veronica has maintained a deep love for teaching and sharing her knowledge with both children and adults. She taught for over 15 years at the Préville Fine Arts Centre and spent several summers at the Kincardine Music Festival as an invited artist, violin teacher and chamber music coach. She has been invited to give masterclasses at several music festivals as well as at the McGill Conservatory string department. In 2014 she was a national adjudicator for the Canadian Music Competition, travelling throughout Canada to listen to and encourage some of this country’s most talented young musicians.
In her newest role as Director General of the Préville Fine Arts Centre, which was founded by her mother 45 years ago, Veronica has discovered a new passion. Using the knowledge, insight and contacts made during her years as a performer and teacher, she plans to guide this institution in a new direction, while staying true to the values that have been at the heart of the Centre for so many years. With her personal and professional connections in the arts sphere, she has been able to assemble a team of the best creators and educators. By encouraging their creativity and innovation she believes that Préville will grow to be among the foremost Fine Arts schools in Canada, while also ensuring that it will not only survive, but thrive, for many generations to come.