Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Non-Competitive Festival Proves Golden

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Non-Competitive Festival Proves Golden

Article excerpt

The Canadian Rocky Mountain Music Festival in Banff has just wrapped up, and I am more inspired to be a music educator than ever.

The festival took place at the Banff Centre for the Performing Arts April 23-26. There were a number of groups from four main areas: 32 Concert Bands, 24 Jazz Bands, 30 Concert Choirs and 15 Vocal Jazz groups. I estimate there were about 3000 students participating in this year's festival. Most of these groups were high school aged, but there were a few community groups, as well as some middle schools and I even heard one elementary school vocal jazz group from Winkler Manitoba with about 15 young ladies and one lucky(?) young man, and of course, they were singing music from the popular TV series GLEE.

Each species of music ensemble have their own area; the Concert Choir venue (where I spent most of the weekend) was the Rolston hall, a lively acoustic space where both performers and audience members are treated to large picture window views of the Rocky Mountains to go along with the beautiful music being sung. The groups perform concurrently during the festival, making it impossible to take everything in, but as there are 101 different performing ensembles participating, it is the only way to get through each group in such a short time. Those of us who were in the choral half of the Teacher Professional Development Program (TPDP) were able to see many choral groups, and if we had wanted to see a particular concert band, we could arrange to go and see them, but mostly we stayed in the choral venue. The Choirs would sing in the morning and then would have a clinic in the afternoon. There were also evening showcase concerts, which is where the festival would have select groups giving hour-long concerts. One of the values of the festival is to give an example of excellence, and it is these evening concerts that provide just that.

The morning concerts were always full; each choir would sing and then the audience would file in and out, trading their roles as audience and performer, parents and chaperones dutifully and happily cheering their students on. But equally important was the way the students were supportive of each other. The choirs who had traveled from far and wide enjoyed each other's performances and I am sure they learned a thing or two from watching and listening to each other. I overheard some of the students talking about how one group sang the same song that they were about to, which I am sure made them a little nervous, but also provided them an opportunity to hear the piece from a different perspective and gain appreciation for the things they did well and the things they could do better. There was an air of camaraderie between the schools that was almost palpable.

Willie Connell is the current executive director of the festival and an advisory committee of four current music educators from the public school system, community ensembles, and universities ably assists him. The festival was started by a group of music educators who got together almost twenty years ago, dissatisfied with festivals that were solely competition focused. They saw that there was something missing, that more could be done to teach young people and directors about excellence in music if the focus on competition was not there to distract from the educational opportunities that come from performance and positive critique in an explicitly collegial atmosphere. The Canadian Rocky Mountain Music Festival founders decided that students would benefit from an event that was student and director centered, non-competitive and non-grading, workshop oriented, provided excellent performance examples, and created a positive atmosphere where students and directors could learn by listening, sharing, and working together.

I experienced the reality of these principles while attending as a member of the TPDP, where I attended and hosted some of the morning concerts and acted as a volunteer for some of the clinics. …

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