For Kara Heckford, a Grade 12 student and clarinettist from Winnipeg, MB, one of the most difficult things about life during the pandemic has been not being able to make music with other people. Prior to the closure of schools in the spring of 2020, Kara was a member of her high school’s concert band, jazz band, wind ensemble, choir, and vocal jazz ensemble, plus the University of Manitoba’s concert band and the Winnipeg Youth Symphony Orchestra

“Music consumes my life,” she told us in an interview, adding that it was heartbreaking when everything shut down, and playing in person with other musicians was no longer an option. In the weeks and months that followed, Kara noticed that virtual ensembles began popping up everywhere, with many being produced by professional orchestras. 

In June, her high school’s jazz band put together their own virtual performance; this was one of the things that inspired her own project. Kara felt a desire to take action and put something positive into the world. She also felt a desire to provide other teenagers with an opportunity to perform orchestral music. So she put the call out to the 15k+ Instagram followers of her @karanets_memess account, and received responses from interested teens and adults from all over the world.

Along with two volunteers who helped with audio mixing and video editing, and 14 contributors, Kara presented the first performance of Karanet’s Army, in the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Their second virtual performance received even more contributions, with 22 musicians from Canada, the United States, Mexico, Estonia, Spain, France, Portugal, Poland, the Czech Republic, India, Argentina, and Australia performing the Adagio from Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2. The project has had such a positive response that there are plans to continue, with more Karanet’s Army videos expected later this year.

For Kara, who began playing clarinet in Grade 7, this project has been an opportunity for personal and musical growth. It’s also given her a big confidence boost.  She told us that sometimes it’s hard to believe some of the things she’s accomplished, but in leading this project she’s learned that she is capable of inspiring others and bringing people together. 

When asked what advice she’d give other youth about leadership, she said she’d remind them that everyone has something to offer, and everyone has the ability to inspire. This project has taught her that leadership is about using your own experiences to mentor and help others, and that to truly lead, it’s important to be a friend and to be kind. 

This project has also taught her that she really can’t live without making music. Despite the challenges of learning and making music during a pandemic, Kara remains optimistic and enthusiastic. Her music class this year is focusing on percussion, and after so many months away, she’s very happy to be back in her natural habitat. “You can always find me in the band room,” she says. 

Kara plans to continue the Karanet’s Army virtual performance series for as long as possible. She plans to study music performance at university, and hopes to one day play clarinet in a professional orchestra.