Festival 500 is one big family affair

Heidi Wicks
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Since its 1997 inception, international choral celebration Festival 500 has been expanding its family from biological to adopted, from local to global. And it doesn't seem to be minimizing any time soon.

Nicholle Andrews originally brought the McGill choir to Newfoundland in 1997. She was a student at McGill after completing her undergraduate degree at Memorial. Andrews' mother, Janet Martin, is a longtime volunteer with the festival, and her brother was the sound engineer for the grand finale show to close the festival, until her husband, Brad Andrews, took over that position four years ago.

Since its 1997 inception, international choral celebration Festival 500 has been expanding its family from biological to adopted, from local to global. And it doesn't seem to be minimizing any time soon.

Nicholle Andrews originally brought the McGill choir to Newfoundland in 1997. She was a student at McGill after completing her undergraduate degree at Memorial. Andrews' mother, Janet Martin, is a longtime volunteer with the festival, and her brother was the sound engineer for the grand finale show to close the festival, until her husband, Brad Andrews, took over that position four years ago.

She acted as sound engineer from 1999-2005, but this year she brings her choir of 22 young women from the University of Redlands in Southern California to experience Newfoundland and Labrador.

"I think 22 of the 22 all want to move to Newfoundland now," she chuckled over the cellphone, in between festival sessions. "We did the up the shore around the bay trip in Ferryland, we did a Notable Lunch Concert Series yesterday (July 6), and we did a concert with QVE (Quintessential Vocal Ensemble), and then our evening performance is on Thursday night. We were also chosen to do the workshop with Imant Raminsh. So we've been very fortunate, but very busy."

In addition to being a phenomenal professional development opportunity for singers and conductors from across the globe, the festival significantly adds to the tourism profile of the province - essentially bringing the government ads to life in real time.

"We're taking the girls to George Street tonight, we're gonna get them screeched in, and the people from (local choir) Newman Sound have invited them to a house party on Saturday night, so they'll get to experience an authentic kitchen party," Andrews added, perhaps a tad enthusiastic to attend the shindig herself.

Andrews graduated from MUN in 1997, taught in Newfoundland for two years, and then moved to Montreal to complete her master's and doctorate degrees at McGill. She started at U of Redlands in 2006 and took over as choral conductor this year. She's only the third choral conductor in the history of the university.

Still, her roots lie in Festival 500. A technical director from 1997 to 2007, she returned last year with a choir, and has played in the orchestra regularly.

"It's strange not to be involved on the technical side for a change," she laughed, "but it's kind of nice to be able to take part in all of the workshops, too."

Looking back over the last 12 years, Andrews has noticed remarkable progression in the festival.

"People know the reputation here now, they know to come and expect amazing, beautiful things, and that is always delivered whenever people visit. It's just evolved into this beautiful, amazing thing, so kudos to the artistic team for that. I have 22 students and faculty who would never have realistically come here, but now you look at their Facebook profile and it's like, 'I wanna move to Newfoundland! I saw a whale! I love it here!' - it's just fantastic."

She added that not only do these people want to return to the province as tourists, but they want to be part of the music scene.

"The choirs that are represented here are stellar. It's amazing for our students in Southern California to see what's happening not only in Canada, but specifically here in Newfoundland. It's just phenomenal."

The University of Redlands Madigral Singers will perform at the Arts and Culture Centre today at 8 p.m. For a full festival schedule, visit www.festival500.com/pages/Schedules/ChoralFestival.aspx.

Organizations: McGill, University of Redlands, Notable Lunch Concert Series MUN Schedules/ChoralFestival.aspx

Geographic location: Southern California, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ferryland George Street Montreal Canada

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