photo courtesy of Ingrid Taheri

5 Ways Music Festivals Need to Change

Let me start by saying that this blog post is not about the type of music festival where you go and listen to 100 bands in a farmer’s field one weekend, pay $20 for a beer and wear a tie dyed t-shirt.

Instead, it’s about music festivals that take place in countless cities and towns across Canada where local community organizations (like Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, etc) selflessly give music students the opportunity to play in front of an adjudicator and get helpful hints on improving their prowess at their instrument. I have been very fortunate to be an adjudicator at many festivals over the years. It is a true pleasure to interact with so many students on a day where they celebrate and demonstrate all their musical achievements.

This being said though, the format in which most of these music festivals are presented hasn’t really changed in countless years. It’s time for a shakeup. Here’s 5 suggestions…

1. No more test pieces. I don’t know who started this tradition or why but hearing 10 “Freddie the Frog”‘s in a row is truly painful and boring (no disrespect to that fine composition). Organize classes in a way that allows teachers and students to select pieces and encourage the actual festival class to be an event to sample and enjoy a variety of repertoire.

2. Get rid of marks and placings. What are we trying to prove by giving a student a first place or an 83%? What does that say about the quality of the performance? In my eyes, it says diddly-squat. What we should be doing is recognizing students for the standard which they achieve in their performance. What about a Gold, Silver or Bronze for everyone? Gold is a polished performance, Silver is a good performance with some hiccups. And Bronze is a “you’re on the right track but keeping plugging away at it” type of message. It’s all about making the competition within oneself rather than against each other.

3. Organize classes by level, not age. Not all festivals do this anymore but there’s still some kicking around. You can have a class 11 years and under with kids in grade 3 piano and some in grade 6. It just does not make sense especially in attempting to have a conversation/mini-workshop at the completion of a class.

4. More creative classes. We must get away from our conservatory, cookie-cutter culture of organizing everything by grades. What about the students who like downloading video game music from the internet or only learn by improvisation? What about students who sing their own songs and accompany themselves at the same time? The only festival I’ve ever adjudicated that had classes that cater to such students is the Burlington Rotary Music Festival, otherwise a good chunk of the modern-day students don’t have anywhere to play.

5. Stop the waiting around and make it more entertaining AND educational. For anyone who attends a festival, there’s so much waiting around in between performances while adjudicators write comments. It drags down the whole excitement and flow of the event. So here’s what you do…the adjudicator listens to each performance in the main hall of the venue. After each performance, the adjudicator selects gold, silver and bronze standards but does not write any comments. This way students proceed one right after the other like a concert. When the class is over, there’s some brief general comments and an awards presentation. Then that adjudicator, students and their cheering section go off to another room in the building and a have a master class/workshop with the students. Parents are invited to record this so the student and teacher can refer back to it later. Meanwhile back in the main performance area, the next class has gotten underway with another adjudicator. Yes, 2 adjudicators working at the same time!! This will cut down on the length of festivals and the amount of rental costs. It’s a win, win, win, win for everyone!!

So powers-that-be, here it is! Revitalize your festival formats and make it more engaging and fun for students to participate. You will be doing a great service to the music teaching profession and giving kids something exciting to look forward to!!

Disclaimer: my views expressed here are purely my own and do not represent the views of a certain music teachers’ association I just happen to be president of at present.

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