gazette logo
   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

July 10, 2003

Festival 500 has profound effect


Festival 500 has come and gone once again. This unique cultural event allows people from all over the world to come together and share their love for music in a non-competitive environment. From June 29-July 6, the biennial Festival 500 Sharing the Voices succeeded once again in bringing together many different cultures, beliefs and ways of communicating. “The festival sees music as the medium through which people come together and interact, leaving them with a renewed sense of spirit and friendships that last a lifetime,” said Doug Dunsmore, co-artistic director, Festival 500 Sharing the Voices, and School of Music faculty member.

Memorial University’s School of Music consistently acts as the venue for several festival activities, a prime location in which to experience the best the music world has to offer.

The vital academic aspect of Festival 500 is The Phenomenon of Singing, International Symposium IV. The academic symposium takes place prior to the choral festival, held this year June 26-29. With the purpose of bringing together international expertise, the symposium provides a foundation for interdisciplinary academic conversation and research sharing. The symposium committee selects 50 papers from around the world and ongoing musical research from countries such as United Kingdom, Uganda, India, New Zealand, South Africa, and more is shared in various presentation formats. Research related to the phenomenon of singing highlights cultural, sociological, historical, pedagogical, compositional and artistic areas.

Those involved describe Festival 500 as beneficial not only for its musical participants but for the volunteers, Memorial University as a whole, the city of St. John’s, and even the entire province.

“Participants get a chance, in a non-competitive atmosphere, to be exposed to countless wonderful experiences,” said Dr. Dunsmore. “They get some of the best organization and hospitality at one of the least costly festivals in the world.

“Additionally, the School of Music as well as the entire university benefits in terms of our exposure, we become recognized as a place that supports this kind of cultural sharing.”

Dr. Dunsmore went on to describe the personal experience he takes away from his extensive involvement with Festival 500. “I learn more from watching these international clinicians than you could imagine,” he said. “Here are people that do what I do but do it differently, it is refreshing to see all of these alternatives.”

This year’s festival saw a union of conductors for world of music concerts, talented clinicians, guest speakers and guest artists come together to create one of the most unique cultural events ever. Among the many talented festival participants was conductor, clinician and lecturer, Maria Guinand, one of the best known and respected choral practitioners in the world. Ms. Guinand added to this year’s festival through sharing her own voice and giving master classes in conducting and led workshops in South American choral repertoire and Gregorian chant.

Invited guest speaker, Linda Tillery, a veteran vocalist, percussionist, producer, vocal coach and cultural historian whose career spanned 34 years, also took the time to enlighten the festival audience, speaking about the traditions of African American song.

“The range of discussion is quite astonishing,” said Tom Gordon, director, Memorial’s School of Music. “This festival constantly succeeds in bringing together people from around the world who are interested in human voice, research, and how music can galvanize societies.”

Performances included World of Music concerts which spanned four evenings of the festival. Choirs (three per venue) had the opportunity to perform at one of four concert sites and then participate in a massed performance of two works under the direction of one of two guest conductors. Horace Boyer and Brainerd Blyden-Taylor held this year’s guest conductor positions. Further performances included lunch concerts, church services and the Grande Finale concert held at Mile One Stadium which saw performances from the Massed Choir Projects. This year, the always entertaining Bobby McFerrin took the lead in directing the adult massed choir (SATB voicing) and the incredible Erikki Pohjola directed the youth massed choir (SSAA voicing).

“The festival has been and continues to be the musical highlight of my life,” said Dr. Dunsmore. “As a member of the Festival 500 artistic team I get to see how our ideas play out and enjoy how everyone basks in them. They just come to life as the energy of everyone involved gets reflected back and fourth. It just continues to grow, kind of like an exponential effect, it’s wonderful to see. This is how I measure the success of the festival. This year, success was evident on the faces of all those involved from day one.”

“For me, two main things have defined Newfoundland: the fishery and our province’s music,” said Dr. Gordon. “The more the fishery becomes diminished the more important music becomes. Fortunately, the university recognizes that one of the ways it can support this province’s vitality is to support its arts. We are meeting the need to bring new music to our shores and we in turn benefit from the musical experience and exposure.”

Memorial University’s involvement in the festival is not merely limited to providing the venue. “Most of the frontline volunteers come from the School of Music,” said Dr. Gordon. “Our faculty and staff are all involved in one aspect or another and we pride ourselves in managing the university’s principle sponsorship of the festival. Each year we create a compilation CD. We make sure each concert is professionally recorded and all of the festival highlights are included, ensuring that each performance is represented. This is then offered as a souvenir to every participant as a gift. It is Memorial’s way of indicating how much we appreciate this wonderful world of music coming to our community.”

Festival 500 customarily highlights the music of a specific culture; this year particular attention was paid to the African American musical tradition. Festival 500 Sharing the Voices is a non-profit organization, governed by a board of directors. Festival 500 Design and programming artistic co-directors are Susan Knight, Doug Dunsmore, Andrea Rose, and Ki Adams.




   Top Stories

Next issue: July 24, 2003

Questions? Comments?
E-mail our editor.