Singing in the face of adversity

Justin Brake
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Festival 500 promises 'joy' despite diminished international contingent

It's hard to argue that every second summer in Newfoundland and Labrador isn't a bit better because of Festival 500.

Of course, the organizers and 1,000-plus participants from around the world taking part in the biennial celebration of choral music would support the claim.

The finale of Festival 500's 2007 event. - Photo courtesy Festival 500

It's hard to argue that every second summer in Newfoundland and Labrador isn't a bit better because of Festival 500.

Of course, the organizers and 1,000-plus participants from around the world taking part in the biennial celebration of choral music would support the claim.

But Doug Dunsmore, a professor at Memorial's school of music and co-artistic director of the festival, is a firm believer that the July 5-12 event and its preceding symposium have a significant impact on the province and its people.

"It has brought a tremendous amount of wealth to this province, not just monetary wealth, but cultural wealth," he says.

"This year in particular, when everybody is on the verge of fear and temerity, this festival is going to bring to anybody who comes to it - joy."

The economic recession, he explains, has prevented the overseas contingent of youth and adult choirs from making their way to St. John's for the occasion this year.

Initially, groups from South Africa, Israel, Denmark and Indonesia were scheduled to attend, but "the recession has blown these people out of the water,"

Dunsmore says, explaining many of the choirs were relying on corporate sponsorship that was pulled when the economic crisis hit.

Down a number of choirs from last year, and all those participating being from Canada and the United States, the format and content of the activities appear as though they will remain largely unchanged.

The international symposium, which runs July 2-5, will uphold the claim of its title as it attracts keynote presenters and clinicians from the UK, Israel, Zimbabwe, Spain, and the U.S.

The roster includes names such as Howard Goodall, Paul Hillier, Thomas Mapfumo and Wendy Nielsen.

Goodall and Hillier, says Dunsmore, are both hall-of-famers "in terms of choral excellence in the higher echelons."

"They have been doing exquisite choral work with small groups, large groups, research, and all that sort of stuff. And in the choral world, they are really the bees' knees. They have a lot to say about trends and all that sort of stuff, so the keynotes will be exceptionally interesting."

Canadian "major league opera singer" Wendy Nielsen, adds Dunsmore, joins as a guest soloist, workshop clinician and keynote speaker.

And the presence of 64-year-old Thomas Mapfumo, a musical activist and Zimbabwean citizen in exile who has "been singing and doing things that are anti-government and trying to bring about good by whatever means he can, music being one of them," says Dunsmore, perhaps best exemplifies the festival's 2009 theme, "The Power of Song."

"Singing is part of a universal global act practiced by all of humanity and that in itself is unique," Dunsmore says, explaining the theme. "It's something that binds us all together. Even though there are differences in language, differences in cultural identity, the fact that we pass knowledge on through song is really tribal, if you will. So, in every important landmark in life, we sing. When people are born, when people are married, when people are dying, when we're sad, when we're happy - the singing is what happens to it. So it's tremendously powerful."

Among the festival's most-anticipated public performances will be the "Up the Shore and Around the Bay" concerts in Ferryland and Brigus today, the opening gala and the Club for Five concert, respectively July 5 and 8 at the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's, and the July 12 grand finale concert at Mile One Centre.

"The festival is described by people who come to see us and clinicians as one of the best international festivals in the world ... because it offers so many things for the choirs to do," Dunsmore says. "The choirs get to sing as individual choirs, they get to learn and sing with other choirs, they get to learn and sing under the expert guidance of conductors from all over the world. This doesn't happen anywhere.

"And because of this our community here, the greater community of Newfoundland and Labrador, is singing music now that we had never before imagined ever performing. All of this music comes to us and we learn it and we start singing it, and our choirs learn how to start singing songs from other lands and doing it very nicely, not to mention that people from other lands go away having learned things that we were able to teach them.

"What we need from the community is to give back to us what we need right now, and that is people at the concerts and taking part," he says.

"What we really need is people to come so we can continue to do this."

For more information on Festival 500, including ticket prices and a full schedule, visit www.festival500.com or call 709.738.6013.

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, Israel United States South Africa Denmark Indonesia Canada UK Zimbabwe Spain Ferryland Brigus

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Anne Marie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    What a lovely inspiring article to read on this cloudyk rainy day in Ottawa. I can almost hear the choirs!

    Thank you.

  • Anne Marie
    July 01, 2010 - 19:43

    What a lovely inspiring article to read on this cloudyk rainy day in Ottawa. I can almost hear the choirs!

    Thank you.