The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Lethbridge Music and Speech Arts Festival picks up the torch where the Kiwanis Music Speech and Arts Festival leaves off. Their number-one goal was to make the transition as easy as possible, helped a lot along the way by the Kiwanis Club.
“It has been a challenge,” observed Lethbridge Festival Society president Sandy Brunelle. “We have a very active, dedicated nine member board. The Kiwanis Club left us their list of volunteers. They don’t all volunteer every year, but we have their names.”
The new board has planned on providing two weeks of entertainment all over the city, very similar to years past, though they have had to adapt to losing the Yates and Sterndale Theatres due to renovations.
“It’s been a lot of work,” said general manager Natasha Tompkins, who shadowed the organizers last year to soak up as much as she could in preparation for the transition.
“It’s been a learning experience,” Tompkins said.
The hard work has paid off.
“The lady in charge is really organized,” observed Gilbert Paterson band teacher Karli Lewis, who has 255 students involved in this year’s festival in several categories including Grade 6, Grade 7 and Grade 8 band, percussion, stage band and concert band.
“They’ve had to deal with a lot of stuff because of the renovations to the Yates,” Lewis continued, noting she has had students participating in the festival for the past 16 years.
She always enjoys the opportunity to be adjudicated by experts in the field.
“The kids are excited to meet the challenge,” Lewis said, adding she is working with many of the same kids as they move up from Grade 6 through Grade 8 bands. Some of the stage band competitors, who audition for a spot in the band, are new.
“But the stage band performs at a pretty high level,” she continued.
Among the highlights of the 88th annual festival this year are a choir performing with 111 singers and a band including 89 young musicians.
The event features 79 volunteers covering 473 shifts over 12 days, totalling 1,592 volunteer hours throughout the event, March 12-24.
Also this year, there will be 13 visiting adjudicators who will listen and provide feedback to 4,876 performers competing in 87 different sessions, though some are performing in more than one session.
“We have adjudicators coming from all over Alberta and B.C.,” Tompkins said.
There will be 144 cash awards, scholarships and trophies awarded at the end of this festival.
Sessions take place in the ATB Financial Community Room at Casa, Chinook High School, Gilbert Paterson Middle School, La Cité Des Prairies, Lethbridge Collegiate Institute, Lethbridge Public Library Theatre Gallery, Southminster United Church, St. Augustine’s Hall and Sanctuary and St. Patrick’s Fine Arts Elementary School.
“Other than the schools and La Cité des Prairies, everything is pretty much still centralized,” Tompkins said.
One big change due to the Yates renovations is the two big “best of” concerts will be held at Southminster United Church during the afternoon instead of the night. The 11th Musical Theatre Showcase is Saturday, March 17 at 2:30 p.m. The festival-ending Stars of the Festival Concert is Saturday March 24 at 2:30 p.m.
“We changed them to the afternoon because there area lot of younger participants,” Tompkins said.
Similar to previous years, the bigger bands will be performing at their own schools.
“Junior and senior choirs are quite big this year. We have more handbells this year. Chinook has a big band with over 100 members,” Tompkins said, adding there will also be a 111-member band coming in from Magrath. This year there are also guitar ensembles and a ukulele player competing.
There are also more junior and senior voice competitors and speech arts students, plus more monologues and duologues.
Kaden Pratt, 16, is excited to participate in his first Lethbridge and District Music and Speech Arts Festival as a soloist.
“I’ve got two stage presentations in Boy’s Voice and Musical,” said Pratt, a swimmer who discovered he could sing last year and decided to get involved in the event with the help of his teacher, Dave Shefsiek.
“I started taking voice lessons late last year when I found out I was a pretty good singer,” said Pratt, who will be singing “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella the Musical.”
“I competed with the school choir last year,” he continued, adding he enjoyed the experience and decided to try it again on his own.
“I just enjoyed being able to hang out with my friends and sing with them.”
“Now that my voice is stronger, I thought it was a good opportunity to show people I can sing pretty well,” he said, adding he is a little nervous competing on his own.
“Yes I am, I won’t have all of the other voices behind me,” he said, adding he his also a little nervous about being adjudicated.
Shefsiek, who is adjudicating musical theatre in Edmonton this week at their festival, emphasized the adjudicators always offer constructive criticism.
“And I know both the adjudicators, Kim Mattice-Wanat and Alexandra Babel. I’ve met Kim, who is from Edmonton though other professionals and got to know Alexandra in Kelowna when I was adjudicating there,” he said.
“This festival is very good about vetting and getting the very best adjudicators who always give the kids lots of encouragement and always leave them with something to work on,” Shefsiek said.
“They try to make it a very joyous process. It it is very subjective as is everything in the arts. You can have another qualified adjudicator with a completely different opinion,” he added.
He has had students in the Lethbridge Festival since he moved here five years ago and for many years before that at similar festivals in Michigan. He has 35 students competing in multiple categories this year — 125 different performances.
“All of them are performing from two to five different pieces,” he said.
“My youngest is 11 and my oldest is 22. The university has such a great program, though I don’t teach any of them, the adjudicators are always impressed by what goes on here in southern Alberta,” he said.
He enjoys watching his students improve every time they compete.
“Just getting up there is an achievement, but they improve each time exponentially. And I’m so impressed by them,” Shefsiek said.
“They also encourage and inspire each other,” he said, noting two students went on to the provincials last year including Madison Craig and his student Hunter Semrau, who came in from Medicine Hat for the festival.
“Now we have four performing in national musical theatre because they inspire each other.”
The cost to attend each session is still low at $3 per session or $15 for the program allowing admission to everything except the 11th Musical Theatre Showcase on March 17 and the Stars of the Festival Concert on March 24, which are $5 each
“We’re still a non-profit organization, so our only wish is to recoup our costs,” Tompkins said, adding their office for the festival has been moved to Casa, where programs will be available.