A Student Perspective on Music Festivals

By Lucas Redwood, Bandology staff

For the past five years, I have been given the opportunity to be a part of MusicFest Canada as both a performer and as a volunteer. MusicFest, Canada’s national music competition, brings together thousands of students and educators from across the country to celebrate excellence in musical performance.

I have attended as both a performer and as a volunteer. MusicFest is a great learning opportunity for students to improve their musicianship through learning from some of the best musicians and educators in the country. It also helps provide helpful tips for students that are looking at pursuing a career in music education or music in general.

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What is MusicFest?

MusicFest is a competition for bands in elementary school and high school. Bands begin by competing at an affiliated regional MusicFest competition and then advance to the national competition upon qualification. There are three main categories that ensembles compete in: concert band, instrumental jazz and choral. While a band plays, adjudicators assess the bands level as either bronze, silver, silver plus or gold standing. A gold or silver plus standing allows the ensemble to compete at the national competition.

Warmup room at first MusicFest performance 2015 in Toronto
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MusicFest as a Performer

Before high school, I had never had the opportunity to do a competition before. During the rehearsals leading up to the competition, I noticed that everyone was very motivated because they wanted to impress the adjudicators. The regional festival was at Redeemer College in Ancaster. The stage we were on was the largest stage I had ever played on before and I was super nervous but also really excited.

Nelson Jazz Combo performance at MusicFest 2017 in Niagara Falls

One of the most important things I learned from my music teacher and from the clinicians was that “it doesn’t matter how well you did… all that matters is that you felt you played your best”. That is a critical life skill that helped me not only in future music auditions and competitions, but also all tasks in general. To compliment this attitude, my music teacher decided not to tell us our results from the competition until we arrived back to the school to allow us to reflect on how well we played and predict what standing we were going to get. This made sense and was a good method, however, the only negative was that it made me even more nervous! In my first year, our concert band, symphonic band and jazz band were fortunate enough to qualify for nationals in Toronto and I was happy because I felt our hard work paid off.

Between regionals and nationals, we would listen to the adjudications and try to incorporate some of their feedback at rehearsals. During our clinics at regionals and nationals, the conductors chose sections of the pieces that they liked and gave us ideas on how we could improve them. To make it interactive, they also asked us questions about what we thought the composer’s intentions were and also did activities such as trying to find our best sounds out of our instruments. When we went to nationals in my second year, we had Dr. Colleen Richardson from Western University adjudicate our clinic. She is one of my favourite clinicians because she has plenty of formal advice and a great sense of humour. She also talked a lot about careers in music and made me think more about the potential of pursuing music in the future. Another clinician we had that I enjoyed was Bob Rebagliati from B.C. He focused a lot on understanding the roles of rhythm sections in a jazz band and also being able to adjust your playing to fit a particular style of jazz.

Receiving the Musser Outstanding Concert Percussionist Award in Toronto
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In my third year of nationals, we watched the Denis Wick Canadian Wind Orchestra. They were very good and very professional and it inspired me to audition and I was honoured to be offered a position in the ensemble! However, being in this ensemble meant a lot of hard work. The directors of the ensemble, Dr. Marc Hopkins from Acadia University and Dr. Gillian McKay from the University of Toronto, sent out the music a week before nationals and I was responsible for learning my music before our first rehearsal. The music was more challenging than some of the music I had played in high school, but it was manageable. When we arrived in Toronto on Sunday, we had rehearsals all day from Sunday until Friday. Rehearsals with this ensemble were very professional and everyone listened very attentively when Dr. Hopkins and Dr. McKay instructed a player or section to do something. Everyone in the ensemble tried their best to fix problems promptly, which allowed us to play the pieces at our fullest potential. Being in the Denis Wick Canadian Wind Orchestra was a great opportunity because it helped prepare me for the expectations of a university music ensemble. It also allowed me to see how different conductors run their rehearsals, which helped me figure out some techniques that I could try to apply to my own ensembles.  

The Denis Wick Canadian Wind Orchestra Performance 2018 in Toronto
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MusicFest as a Volunteer

After performing with the festival for four years and having such positive experiences, I decided to apply to be a volunteer at MusicFest in Ottawa. There are many volunteer positions available including performer guides, performer check-in, front-of-house, technicians and logistics. I applied for and was given the opportunity to be on the logistics team.

When I arrived at MusicFest, we began by having a meeting to discuss general procedures and the team managers. We then had a meeting with our team managers to discuss more about our individual roles. The main role of logistics was to help move equipment for performers.

The day before the festival is one of the busiest days of the festival for the logistics team and other volunteers. All the equipment was held in a central warehouse location and our job was to take equipment out of boxes, assemble it and then move it to the various performance locations. I was excited because I was assigned to assembling drum kits, which was good practice for a drummer. Once the drum kits were assembled, I moved them to the warm-up room, stage and clinic room of the jazz band venue and then tuned the drum kits, which is important to help make sure the drums are at their best for the performances. My team also had to load and unload the truck with equipment to be set-up at various concerts and move all the equipment back to the warehouse at the end of the festival.

Once the set-up was done, the remaining days were less busy for me, which allowed for more free time and being able to watch some performances. On Monday, I watched the McGill Jazz Orchestra perform. My favourite part of the concert was when they invited a professional trumpet player to be their soloist, and the trumpet player hit super high notes!! A relatively new concept to MusicFest was allowing a variety of contemporary ensembles perform, and I was super excited when I saw a classical guitar ensemble and a rock band perform! On Tuesday, I watched the Wind Ensemble from T. A. Blakelock High School in Oakville perform, and they played very challenging repertoire very well including Hounds of Spring by Alfred Reed, and earned a gold standing at the B500 level, one of the highest honours at MusicFest.

One of my favourite experiences from the week was helping out with the percussion ensemble I started at my former high school, Nelson High School in Burlington. I assisted them with moving their equipment to the warm-up room, the stage and the clinic room. It was super inspiring to watch them continue the group after I left and play their repertoire very well, earning themselves a gold standing!

During my free time, I was able to explore Ottawa with some of the other volunteers. One day, we explored Byward Market and went to a restaurant called Zak’s Diner, which was very good, and I also had a beaver tail for the first time in my life!

All of the managers helped me enjoy my MusicFest volunteering experience, but also helped to oversee the entire festival and make sure it ran as smoothly as possible for everyone involved including performers, adjudicators, volunteers, sponsors and teachers.

MusicFest has been a life changing experience for me. It helped me become a better performer, helped me realize I wanted to pursue music as a career, and allowed me to help provide the positive experience I had as a performer to other participants through volunteering.

Lucas Redwood  went to Western University this past year for music and will go to Humber College for music in the fall. Lucas is an amazing drummer who loves to perform and work with other musicians

As a creator of many small musical ensembles such as a jazz combo and a rock band, Lucas Redwood loves creating music and sharing his passion for music with others. Lucas studied music at Western University and will enter the Humber College music program in the fall. Lucas is a member of Bandology’s summer 2019 staff and can be reached at lucas@bandology.ca.