The Triumphant Return of Road to Joy!

The Triumphant Return of Road to Joy!

By Kyra Droog

On June 8, 2022, youthful, excited energy filled the Winspear Centre for the first time in over three years. Nearly 200 YONA students, many preparing to perform on the Winspear Centre stage for the first time, stepped off their school buses and walked in through the front doors, reveling in the excitement of the day to come.

Road to Joy is an incredibly important part of YONA – it is equal parts a celebration of YONA students and their accomplishments over the past year and a fundraiser to ensure that the program is able to continue to create positive change in our community for years to come. What brings Road to Joy together, you ask? Let’s take a behind-the-scenes look at the Road to Joy experience.

Once the YONA students arrive at the Winspear, they are treated to a real surprise: they get to sit in the audience and listen to their Edmonton Symphony Orchestra rehearse for the evening’s concert. For some of the YONA students, this is their first time hearing members of the ESO play together. Seeing their eyes widen and watching them grip their seats in anticipation is a powerful moment.

From there, students receive their very own YONA t-shirt, uniting them as a group of musicians before they take their spot on the stage for the first time. Each cohort is led onstage by their teaching artists, and they rehearse their performance for an empty hall. As they play, you can see their eyes wandering, wondering what it will be like when the hall is full of people in just a few hours. Some of these students only received their instruments in January, so the fact that they are onstage preparing a concert is truly incredible. The excitement in the air is undeniable.

After rehearsal comes one of the most energetic parts of the evening: dinner. Cartloads of pizza arrive at the front doors of the Winspear and are carefully organized and shared with each YONA class. As the students eat, talk, and laugh, it really starts to sink in: they are about to play onstage for a huge audience. Nervous energy is worn off through games, songs, and even a trip out to Churchill Square to ensure that students are ready to put everything they have towards their upcoming show.

After the students return to the Winspear and the front doors open to welcome the audience in, the energy inevitably returns. Students wave frantically from the third-floor balcony and call out to their parents and friends as they catch glimpses of them getting their tickets scanned. Families wave up to the students, grins on their faces, and try and catch the chaotic energy on video. This performance onstage at the Winspear is an experience that none of these YONA students will ever forget.

For some of the students, Road to Joy is a well-oiled machine. They’ve performed for Road to Joy at the Winspear for many years, but the 2022 Road to Joy was still different. After two years of no in-person events like this, they feel the butterflies returning to their stomachs as if it was their first time. Their excitement and nervousness culminates in the feeling of returning, the energy that they know they will feel as soon as they set foot onstage.

The crowd roars with excitement, and the students grin at each other backstage. As they take their first steps out into the spotlight, they suddenly feel at ease: it’s time to show the world just how much YONA has taught them. They proudly lift their instruments, and under the direction of their instructors, they play. When the audience cheers for them, leaping to their feet to celebrate their incredible performance, their grins are so wide that their masks can’t hide them. In this moment, they aren’t students or children: they are musicians.

We are so proud to announce that thanks to you, Road to Joy 2022 raised over $100,000 in support of YONA. YONA exists because of the generosity of our community, and experiences like Road to Joy are made possible because of you. To everyone who joined us for our triumphant return to the Winspear Centre, thank you. To EPCOR, who sponsored this event, thank you. To everyone who supports YONA, thank you. You make life-changing moments like these possible for everyone involved.

Image credit: Eric Kozakiewicz