Despite dwindling participation, organizers of the Rotary Music Festival are setting the stage for the 31st annual event.
The festival is slated for the week of March 16-19, when professional adjudicators will travel to Barr-head to provide encouragement and constructive criticism in an effort to inspire participants on to greater accomplishments. The festival committee encourages anyone with artistic talent in speech, voice, instrumental or piano to enter and perform. There are no age restrictions, and deadline for entry forms is Feb. 1.
“Over the years, the festival has gotten smaller and smaller, but that has to do with the number of children who are around,” said festival president Lucille Terpsma. “Years ago, we used to have festivals with 1,000 entries, but then there were 1,500 or 2,000 children in the school system throughout the district. That has decreased considerably.”
Two years ago, the festival drew the attention of 500 participants, Terpsma said. Last year, that number was cut in half when Whitecourt decided to host its own festival. That brought down the number of participants, because the festival used to bring in people from Blue Ridge, Mayerthorpe, Whitecourt and other surrounding communities.
“Mayerthorpe added a very strong speech component to our festival, but they had to go to the Whitecourt festival, because they are in that jurisdiction for school,” Terpsma said. “Time does not permit those students to attend both festivals.”
Many local teachers have become very familiar with the operation of the festival from year to year, Terpsma said, but the festival organizers do try to target new teachers and make them aware of the festival.
Furthermore, getting other schools in the area on board with the festival has been a challenge for organizers. That resulted in a poor response to the instrumental discipline last year, so the committee toyed with the idea of not hosting it this year.
“Now, we have all kinds of response for instrumental,” Terpsma said. “Different things happen in people’s lives, and some teachers take time off for a year for whatever reason, and when they come back, they expect the festival to be there. But, we are accommodating them, and we did manage to get an adjudicator, so the instrumental is a go.”
The festival can last anywhere from two to four days, she said. Last year’s festival took place over two days, but this year, it looks like it’ll be four days. The festival will utilize different venues for its activities including St. John’s Lutheran Church for the junior and senior piano disciplines, and Barrhead Elementary School gymnasium and amphitheatre for other events like vocals, speech and choral speech.
The Rotary Music Festival belongs to the Alberta Music Festival Association, and there are guidelines and protocols to follow, Terpsma said, which states musicians have to enter into the Barrhead festival before qualifying for provincial level competition.
“We have sent piano students to provincials, and Mayerthorpe’s group competed in speech two years ago,” Terpsma said. “We also have a young children’s choir from Neerlandia that has attended provincials for the past two years in a row. There is a lot of talent out there.”
Terpsma pointed out the festival is designed to help participants grow, but there is still a competitive edge to the event. She said years ago, the festival was all about competition, but organizers have strayed away from that. Medallions are handed out to the highest mark of each category, but students aren’t made aware of their mark. As well, certificates are given to each participant, and they will have either a gold, silver or bronze seal on it. Following each performance, adjudicators will provide feedback and encouragement.
“We have our adjudicators lined up and we’re ready to roll,” Terpsma said.
Once all of the entries are in, the committee will produce the festival program and start arranging pieces. Sometimes, there are families with three or four children participating in the festival, and they are competing in several different disciplines, Terpsma said. The committee tries to minimize the amount of travelling they have to do, especially if participants are from out of town.
Pembina Hills Regional Division No. 7 has been a big support to the festival, she said. The board allows the committee to do its photocopying and put together its program. Plus, any child enrolled under PHRD who is participating in the festival will have their entry fee waived, because students get a grant every year.
This is Terpsma’s third year as festival president, but she has been involved with the event for much longer. It’s an organization that heavily relies on volunteers, or there wouldn’t be a festival, she said.
The festival committee is encouraging the public to take in the festival. Terpsma said there are many people in town who just like to listen to the piano, and the festival is just like being at a concert. Furthermore, she said, it would be nice to fill a lot of the chairs so participants don’t have to sing to an empty gym.
“We would really like to see teachers in the Barr-head school district participate,” she said. “If they want to keep the festival here, they are going to have to include it in their classroom curriculum.”
As for the fate of the festival, Terpsma said the committee would have to see from year to year how things go.
“Even at the provincial level, it’s getting more and more difficult to draw participation,” she said. “We will definitely try to keep it alive. For a small town like Barrhead to have this kind of festival really is something special, so we want to keep it going.”
Entry forms for the festival can be picked up at the Barrhead Public Library, cut out of the Barrhead Leader, or obtained by calling Lois at 780-674-3393.