After worrying last year over some of the long-term challenges of the Kiwanis Music Festival in St. John’s, organizers are now singing a different tune.
After a successful 2010 festival, organizers raised concerns over a growing challenge to recruit volunteers — of which roughly 550 are needed to produce the 12-day event.
This year, the festival has seen a complete turnaround in volunteer numbers, thanks, in part, to a concentrated effort to find them.
“We did put on quite a drive last year to recruit volunteers, and it worked,” explained Dave Hillier, treasurer of the Kiwanis Music Festival Association of St. John’s.
There is a declining number of Kiwanians, Hillier explained, and those who are around are getting on in years; this means the number of people available to help with the festival is shrinking. This year, organizers looked outside the service club for help — to the Newfoundland Registered Music Teachers’ Association for current and retired teachers, as well as the various local music schools and studios — and received a great response. Some of those volunteers even recruited friends.
“Basically, it’s an interest in music that drives a lot of them,” Hillier said. “Some of them will request certain classes, like the senior ones, because they feel it’s a pretty good deal — they get to listen to three hours of quality music.”
Established 60 years ago, the St. John’s Kiwanis festival is the largest and longest-running of its kind in Eastern Canada. Musicians from around the St. John’s region compete in various categories — instrumental and voice — for a share in more than $21,000 in awards and scholarships.
When it began in 1952, the festival consisted of a two-day event, with two adjudicators and 193 participants. This year, the festival will take place Feb. 20 to March 3, with eight adjudicators and about 2,400 registrants (close to 4,000 participants, considering members of choirs and other groups). Two of the adjudicators, violinist Lynn Kuo and singer/composer/pianist Jonathan Monro, are past Kiwanis winners. Kuo lives in Toronto; Monro in New York.
“Over the years, we’ve had a number of alumni go on to do other things, like performing or teaching around the world,” Hillier said. “I’ve tracked them down in Malta, Spain, all across the States and Canada.”
In various churches and other venues across the city, students, divided into age groups, compete in categories like piano, strings, woodwind and percussion, as well as vocal genres like gospel, traditional folk, contemporary Newfoundland songs (with Ron Hynes and Buddy Wasisname tunes among those available for selection) and opera. The musical theatre vocal group — in which costumes are encouraged — has become one of the most popular categories, with older students often choosing to sing songs from productions like “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon”; the younger ones choosing pieces from “Aristocats” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
The musical theatre genre has become so popular that organizers have introduced a musical theatre concert at the end of the festival, featuring winners in the various age categories, in addition to the traditional grand concert.
“It’s our biggest attraction,” explained festival association president Charles Taylor. “That’s where you see some great talent. The older ones put on a very nice, atmospheric, professional show.”
Church, community and school choirs also have their own categories in the festival, as do concert groups, ensembles and bands.
Each competitor or competing group gets feedback and constructive criticism from the adjudicators after the performance.
The winners in each category go on to compete in various rose bowl competitions, with the winners of those receiving the biggest cash prizes: $1,500 for the senior rose bowl; $1,000 for the junior; and $750 for instrumental and choral.
Financial strain was a minor concern last year and is still a challenge, Hillier said, since venue and adjudicator costs are going up. The music festival is by no means a fundraiser for the Kiwanis clubs, he said.
“We break even, and that’s it,” he explained. “So far, we’ve been able to hold off on increasing admission prices, and we will continue to hold off until a time when it’s absolutely necessary.”
Admission to the various competitions is $3 for adult and senior classes, and free for classes of children 10 years and under. Festival passes are also available.
“We encourage people to come out the the events, particularly the rose bowls,” Taylor said. “You’re getting a quality show, particularly with the seniors.”
The objectives of the music festival haven’t changed since it began, both men said: to encourage music participation among young people in the province, to give financial assistance to to students who want to further their music education, to provide students with an opportunity for constructive feedback, and to foster an interest in music in the community in general.
Hillier said he thinks the festival, over the past 60 years, has done a pretty good job of meeting those objectives, although its place in the community perhaps isn’t as prominent as it once was.
“Our place is maybe not as strong, but that’s due, in part, to the proliferation of other events in the community,” he explained with a smile. “We are a victim of our own success, because we have students who have gone on to perform and teach and produce their own events. At the same time, it’s great to see that. We can’t take ownership of it, but at least we can say we had a part in it.”
This year’s Senior Rose Bowl competition will take place at MUN’s D.F. Cook Recital Hall at 7:30 p.m. March 2; the Junior Rose Bowl will take place at the Salvation Army Citadel at 2 p.m. March 3; and the Group Rose Bowl competition (instrumental and choir) will happen at the Arts and Culture Centre at 7:30 p.m. March 3. Tickets for all rose bowls are $12.
The grand concert will take place at the Arts and Culture Centre March 7 at 7:30 p.m., while the musical theatre concert will be held at the D.F. Cook Recital Hall March 10 at 7:30 p.m.
More information is available online at www.kiwanismusicfestivalsj.org.