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More N.S. students tuning in to online Kiwanis Music Festival

Music festivals in Atlantic Canada keep going despite hard-hitting pandemic restrictions

5 min read
Antonia Whelan

Hundreds of young musicians have signed up for a Nova Scotia online music festival this spring, leading to an even higher interest than last year’s virtual event.

The Kiwanis Music Festival is an annual community event involving categorized music classes of solo performances, group ensembles, and everything in between.

The event is normally geared towards students as a fun competitive event with awards up for grabs.

The festival is going ahead in Nova Scotia as a virtual event, without band or choir classes. In Newfoundland and Labrador, most of the festivals have been almost entirely cancelled — a decision that organizers said was not easily made.

Nova Scotia ready for busy virtual festival

The Nova Scotia Kiwanis Music Festival has seen a strong enrolment in this year’s virtual festival, although the numbers are not quite as high as in-person festivities.

Executive director Martha Healy noted that the 2020 festival had to be taken online last minute, so the festival was well-prepared for whatever would come their way in 2021, whether it would be online or in-person.

caption Martha Healy is the executive director of the festival.
Martha Healy

Numbers are low overall, but some growth since last year

Healy noted that she kept a stat sheet comparing the numbers for the 2020 pre-COVID festival, those who participated in the 2020 virtual festival, and those who signed up for this year.

“The numbers are down this year, I was expecting that,” she said.

In last year’s anticipated regular live festival there were 1,053 students registered, and about 400 of those ended up taking part in the virtual festival.

This year, there are 643 students who are registered to take part in the virtual festival.

Piano is a category that has proved popular with local young musicians.

“I’m surprised some of the numbers are as high as they are…for example, in intermediate piano last year we had 187 students sign up, 124 of those competed in the 2020 virtual festival…this year there are 173 participants registered for intermediate piano,” Healy said.

Devin Huang, 14, is a pianist participating in the virtual festival this year.

He has participated in both the in-person festivals before, and the virtual one last year. This year he will participate in five classes.

“Last year there wasn’t much performance, so that was an element that was missing,” he said.

caption Devin Huang is a Halifax-based pianist.
Jennifer Wang

Huang is a performer by trade who, while glad there is a festival this year, is looking forward to an eventual in-person festival to bring that part of the music back.

He is already a seasoned performer, tackling impressive pieces of music at such a young age.

“My favourite composers are probably Chopin or Beethoven,” he said.

How it will work

The festival goes by specific daily classes, but is not entirely live. Healy explained the process of how each class will work this year, similar to last year’s virtual festival.

“The students submit their video recording, PDF score…before the deadline is closed,” she said.

Their deadline would be midnight at the latest, the night before the scheduled class.

The festival has prohibited large ensembles as per COVID-19 restrictions, but duet classes and Early Music chamber ensembles can go ahead as long as the players are socially distanced.

Newfoundland to offer limited classes

Margaret Wakeham is the president of the Kiwanis Music Festival in St. John’s, N.L.

Last year, the festival was able to go ahead in-person as it took place in February. The festival will not go ahead in its entirety this year, but provincial qualifying classes will go ahead.

caption Wakeham is the president of the Kiwanis Festival in St. John’s, N.L.
Margaret Wakeham

“What we’re doing, we’re just organizing about eight classes for senior students who would qualify for the provincial virtual festival, then the national festival,” she said.

The venues for this festival were not available this year due to provincial restrictions, but Wakeham is excited to start planning for 2022.

Music teachers in the St. John’s area continue to work with their students, and have something in the works for their pupils in the spring as a showcase of sorts.

Adapting in the Music Studio

Music teachers not only have to deal with uncertainty from worried parents and students, but they had to make quick adjustments in order to keep their studios running.

Sonya Gosse is a private teacher who usually puts many students in the Carbonear Kiwanis Music Festival in Newfoundland. She teaches 21 students, and only two of those are taught virtually.

This year, it was more difficult for them to set goals, but Gosse had a plan.

“I had to motivate kids to understand that there is so much more to singing than the festival…(Royal Conservatory of Music) exams gave me an opportunity to get other kids involved,” she said

caption Sonya Gosse’s studio located in her basement.
Sonya Gosse

The studio is cleaned constantly, and student and teacher interaction happens only behind a ceiling-to-floor plastic tarp.

Gosse noted how grateful she is at how positive everything has turned out for her studio and her students amid the pandemic.

The Nova Scotia Kiwanis Music Festival will run March 26 to April 30. Admission is free, and the festival hopes to post videos of the classes if all goes well.

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About the author

Antonia Whelan

Antonia (she/her) is a journalism student and classical pianist based in St. John's, NL.

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    Lorraine Janes

    Great story Antonia!! THANK you for keeping us informed on this topic.
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