Music festivals in Atlantic Canada continue despite tough pandemic restrictions

Hundreds of young musicians signed up for an online music festival in Nova Scotia this spring, which has generated even more interest than last year’s virtual event.

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

The event is usually aimed at students as a fun, competitive event with awards.

The festival takes place in Nova Scotia as a virtual event with no band or choir lessons. In Newfoundland and Labrador, most festivals were almost completely canceled – a decision that, according to the organizers, was not an easy one to make.

Nova Scotia ready for a busy virtual festival

The Nova Scotia Kiwanis Music Festival has seen strong participation in this year’s virtual festival, although the number is not quite as high as for in-person celebrations.

Executive Director Martha Healy noted that the 2020 festival needs to go online at the last minute so that the festival is well prepared for anything that will come in 2021, be it online or in person.

Martha Healy is the festival director. Martha Healy

The numbers are low overall, but have grown somewhat since last year

Healy noted that she kept a statistics sheet comparing the numbers for Pre-COVID Festival 2020, those who attended the 2020 virtual festival, and those who signed up for that year.

“The numbers have gone down this year, I expected that,” she said.

The expected regular live festival last year had 1,053 students registered, of which around 400 took part in the virtual festival.

This year 643 students have registered to take part in the virtual festival.

Piano is a category that has proven popular with young musicians from the region.

“I’m surprised that some of the numbers are as high as they are… for example, last year we had 187 advanced piano students, 124 of those who took part in the 2020 virtual festival… this year 173 advanced students are registered Piano, ”said Healy.

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

He has participated in both in-person and virtual festivals over the past year. This year he will take part in five classes.

“There wasn’t much performance last year so one element was missing,” he said.

Devin Huang is a pianist from Halifax. Jennifer Wang

Huang is a performer by profession who, while happy to have a festival this year, is looking forward to a personal festival to bring that part of the music back.

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

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

How it will work

The festival takes place in certain 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.

“Students submit their video recording, PDF score … before the deadline,” she said.

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

The festival has banned large ensembles under COVID-19 restrictions, but duet classes and early music chamber ensembles can take place as long as the players are socially distant.

Newfoundland offers limited classes

Margaret Wakeham is the President of the Kiwanis Music Festival in St. John’s, NL

Last year, as it took place in February, the festival could take place in person. The festival will not take place in full this year, but the provincial qualifying classes will take place.

Wakeham is the President of the Kiwanis Festival in St. John’s, NL Margaret Wakeham

“What we’re doing, we’re only organizing about eight classes for senior students who would qualify for the provincial virtual festival and 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 students in the spring as a kind of showcase.

Adjustment in the Music Studio

In addition to dealing with the insecurities of concerned parents and students, music teachers have had to make quick adjustments to keep their studios up and running.

Sonya Gosse is a private tutor who normally brings many students to the Carbonear Kiwanis Music Festival in Newfoundland. She teaches 21 students, only two of whom are taught virtually.

This year it was harder for her to set goals, but Gosse had a plan.

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

Sonya Gosse’s studio is in her basement. Sonya Gosse

The studio is constantly cleaned and the interaction between students and teachers only takes place behind a floor-to-ceiling plastic tarpaulin.

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

The Nova Scotia Kiwanis Music Festival runs from March 26th to April 30th. Entry is free and the festival hopes to post videos of the classes if all goes well.

Antonia Whelan

Antonia Whelan

Antonia (she / she) is a journalism student and classical pianist and lives in St. John’s, NL.

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