The Tradition ContinuesPublished on November 21, 2020


It is widely known that music offers a sanctity in times of despair, but given that live performances have been banned since mid-March due to COVID-19 restrictions, performers have had to get creative to be heard.

This year was to be the 75th anniversary of the National Capital Region Kiwanis Music Festival. Rather than prepare for a celebration, executive director Kim Chadsey feared the worst. “The festival was facing a crisis. The Festival Board and I faced the terrible prospect of presiding over the sudden fatality of a great institution,” recalls Kim. “We all felt a terrible responsibility even though the circumstances were beyond our control. We were deeply saddened by what we might have to do.”

Launched in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the festival has been a bright light in Ottawa’s cultural scene ever since. Thousands of young people in musical disciplines from piano and voice, to strings and concert bands, participated in this annual springtime festival, honing and proving their musical skills. Many had professional careers in mind.

The festival, which had been the launching pad of such stellar musical talents as pianist Angela Hewitt, baritone Gerald Finley and many more, would have to suspend operations. Not only that, the festival organization itself could face bankruptcy and not be able to pick up the pieces after the pandemic had ended—whenever that might be.

Cancelling was sure to bring disappointment to the nearly 800 entrants, but the financial threat was critical as well. The participants had already paid their entry fees, so cancelling would likely mean the return of those fees and a need to consider closing the festival office which partly relied on them to cover operations.

As the directors met by Zoom on a late-March evening, the idea began to emerge of a virtual festival—essentially held on-line. Participants would record their performances to be presented to adjudicators working in their home-studio offices and be judged by similar standards as in a live performance, but remotely.

Kim thought it was a great idea, but wondered, “Would the festival participants embrace it in sufficient numbers to make it work?”
Board chair Andy Xhignesse said that not only was a virtual festival the only option, but believed it was also, “A vital opportunity to take advantage of modern technology and do something truly innovative this year.”

Shortly after that critical board meeting, Kim issued a statement that the 75th Kiwanis Music Festival would be held on-line in 2020. And she awaited the reaction.

In the following days, it became evident that the musical participants were more than ready to tackle this new challenge. Only a handful bowed out. Even vocalists, who were unable to record in the same room as their accompanists, rose to the occasion and used their accompanists’ pre-recorded work. Some 1,000 musical performances were presented and judged by the equally sequestered adjudicators.

Although it was a scramble to come up with a short-term plan for this year, Kim says organizers now know that the festival will have to be online once again for 2021. The 2020 plan will remain in place with performers sending in their performances by video for judges to look over. Only time—and COVID-19—will tell just how long this “new normal” will continue, or if it will be a permanent feature in the future. One thing is certain, though—The National Capital Region Kiwanis Music Festival doesn’t plan on going anywhere any time soon!

Dani-Elle Dubé

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