Once in a while you encounter a period of time where everything snaps into clarity, and where the most important issues and questions all of a sudden seem to make more sense. A few days ago I got back from a two-week trip on the road examining at the Kiwanis Music Festival in Carbonear and examining for The Royal Conservatory’s Certificate Program in Winnipeg. In both these places, I had the chance to observe musical communities at their finest.
The trip started with a full week adjudicating in Carbonear, a small town up the Conception Bay coastline northwest of St. John’s, Newfoundland. What I found intriguing was how a small town of less than 5000 people can support a festival with a full week of piano and voice classes. What intrigued me about this trip were the words of those who had previously adjudicated in Carbonear, and how it had transformed their outlook on music education. So I left with an eagerness to discover something that several of my colleagues had already learned while working there.
The first thing I noticed was how well-run the festival was. Adjudicating a full festival is no small feat, and the web of rules, scholarships, and qualification requirements can be difficult to navigate at the best of times. However, the day-to-day logistics were handled with a level of detail that allowed me to concentrate on the music and how I could help each performer, given the limited time available in performing classes throughout the day.
But as the week developed, I also noticed a number of other things. Music in Newfoundland holds a central a place in the life of families, noticeable by the sheer love and engagement of so many musicians and the large number of relatives that came out to support the performers, many of whom learned multiple instruments.
The performers were highly supportive of each other, even in competitive classes. After performing, I would notice that many of them high-fived and fist-bumped each other. Sadly, there are only a few awards available for each class, many of which are quite sizeable. But after announcing the results, I was pleasantly astonished to notice that those who didn’t win genuinely congratulated those who did.
There are also strong ties between those working in the arts community with the business community at large. This is a relationship that in many places is largely not known or understood, but when you see it in action, you can see a community working together with strong cohesion, and with the best interests of everyone. In Carbonear, there was a strong understanding in the business community that arts activities are an integral part of the area’s economic activity, can strengthen ties within it, and bring people into the area. The large number of people learning instruments also created a strong demand for teachers in the area. My hope is that as current teachers in the area age and eventually retire, younger teachers will move to the community in order to continue the local musical traditions.
The trip continued with a short examining stint in Winnipeg, where I had a chance to catch up with some of my dearest friends as well as meet new ones. Tempering my admiration of the high standard of playing was a realization of the very real issues facing educators in that city, especially regarding the mental health of young people.
I like to thank people for the impact that they have in the world, and in the case of the last two weeks, the list of people I personally thanked, either in person or on social media, went well into the dozens. But I wanted to thank everyone once more who makes such an impact on their community in Carbonear, St. John’s, and Winnipeg. You know who you are, and I just wanted you all to know that your dedication to the arts community and young people whose lives you impact, either as educators, parents, or volunteers, really matters. You’re doing great work, and the example that you’ve shown will inform the work I do for a very long time.