A noteworthy gift

A noteworthy gift

Jazz prodigy Nikki Yanofsky establishes new scholarships to support musical education at McGill

Nikki Yanofsky was just eight years old when she wrote her first song. Mesmerized by the fairies printed on her purple pajamas, she picked up a pencil and scribbled an ode in their honour. Though it was impossible to predict at the time, she may have found her life’s calling while writing about the winged mythical creatures.

Today, 10 years and countless songs later, the 18-year-old Montreal jazz-pop singer­ has burst onto the international music scene with the ferocity of a freight train. Blessed with a natural stage presence and a voice that exudes confidence far beyond her years, she has so much raw talent that noted record producer Quincy Jones has labeled her “the future of music.”

When you speak with Yanofsky, though, it’s obvious that her success hasn’t changed her. “I’m probably the most boring teenager in the world. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I don’t party,” she says.

Small wonder, then, that when Yanofsky performed at a special gala event celebrating microphone manufacturer Audio-Technica’s 50th anniversary earlier this year, she did something socially responsible: rather than pocket the honorarium, she elected to donate it to McGill to establish new scholarships in the Schulich School of Music and its Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT).

The Nikki Yanofsky/Audio-Technica Scholarships will be awarded annually to at least two outstanding McGill students involved with the CIRMMT, which is discovering new ways of using technology for musical expression.

Yanofsky says her decision to support musical education at McGill was an easy one. “I wanted to support a local organization and I wanted to help aspiring musicians, so McGill was a logical choice,” she says. (And, let’s be honest, it probably didn’t hurt that her older brother, Andrew, is a student at the Desautels Faculty of Management.)

“We are delighted that Ms. Yanofsky has chosen to contribute to the Schulich School of Music and CIRMMT,” says Dean Sean Ferguson. “It is also fitting that our research in the art, science and technology of music be supported by Audio-Technica, which has led in the field for the last 50 years.”

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It’s been quite the rise to stardom for Yanofsky. She made her professional debut at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in 2006 at the age of 12; played with Marvin Hamlisch at the famed Carnegie Hall on her 14th birthday; and that same year released her debut album, Ella…of Thee I Swing, a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald which went Gold in Canada and garnered two Juno Award nominations.

Perhaps her biggest break came when she sang the Canadian national anthem at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and was selected to sing CTV’s broadcast theme for its coverage, “I Believe,” which quickly became an international hit.

Yanofsky’s gift to McGill wasn’t her first effort at supporting a philanthropic cause: over the past few years, she has used her burgeoning fame to raise millions of dollars for a number of charities, including the Montreal Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Wish Foundation and MusiCounts, which helps to fund music programs. She also lent her voice to Young Artists for Haiti’s stirring rendition of K’naan’s single “Wavin’ Flag,” which raised money for relief and rebuilding efforts in the earthquake-ravaged Caribbean country.

But despite her inspiring good work, Yanofsky doesn’t see herself as a role model for other teens.

“You can only be true to yourself and live the way you want, not the way that other people think you should live,” she says. “But I am really just being myself, and if by getting involved in charities, I can help others improve their lives or make their dreams come true, I am happy to do it.”

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