When the Meadow Lake & District Music Festival started back in the 1970s, adjudicators arriving in town received an unusual welcome gift: a pair of rubber boots.
“Until 1985, Meadow Lake in the spring was mud and water,” recalled piano teacher Janet Caldwell. “The only paved street was Centre Street, so getting around meant owning and using a pair of rubber boots every time you ventured out onto the street.”
Much has changed since then, including the size of the festival, the types of performances, and the footwear needed to make it to and from the festival.
“We’ve worked out lots of the kinks — and we have pavement now,” said festival present Susan Paley.
The 35th annual music festival will take place from Apr. 15-18 with the awards night on Apr. 22. Performances ranging from band, instrumental and piano will take place at Carpenter High School Theatre, with vocal performances at the Alliance Church.
“We’re pleased to have quite a bit of piano entries that are coming from the district,” Paley said. “We have a teacher bringing quite a few students from Big River, and a teacher from Pierceland bringing quite a few students.”
The Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday vocal performances will feature musical theatre, and the festival is also introducing some new acts this year.
“We have three students that have written their own speeches that are competing, and we’ve never had speeches before so that’s good,” Paley said.
The festival mostly showcases the music of students, but there are also some child/parent duets to look out for.
Paley said the festival has always been a way for young aspiring musicians to hone their skills. While the festival is competitive, a big part of it is also simply learning to create and perform music, and everyone gets a certificate of participation.
“Personally, I always think a festival is that opportunity to work hard for a single performance,” Paley said. “It gives you a reason to really polish something up.”
Many of the participants go on to have successful careers as performing artists or as teachers, Caldwell said.
“One performer from the first festival is now performing professional opera in Italy,” she said. “That’s why the music festival has played such a large role (in Meadow Lake) … It gives young musicians a goal, something to work towards.”
At its peak, in the 1980s, the festival had nearly 800 entries. These days it has dropped to a more manageable, but still significant number, usually around 300 entries.
“Unfortunately the number of participants are going down across the province,” Caldwell said. “I think society is changing, so there aren’t as many kids involved in music as there were. Which is a shame.”
Caldwell notes that in addition to gaining the ability to entertain oneself and others, learning an instrument also helps students with their study habits and their ability to learn other subjects.
It also helps to build a sense of community spirit.
“I think it’s wonderful that students want to take part, some knowing they won’t do as well as others, but they’re still willing to participate, and I think that’s important.” she said. “Because winning isn’t everything.”