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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
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.