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Photos: Estevan music festival sees strong growth

Estevan and District Music Festival saw a return to the pre-pandemic participation level and significant support from the community.

ESTEVAN — The Estevan and District Music Festival wrapped up its 60th edition with the Piano Awards and Highlights Concert on March 26. It was preceded by the Band, Instrumental, Strings, Vocal, Spoken Word and Musical Theatre Awards and Highlights Concert on March 24.

The year saw a return to the pre-pandemic participation level with 482 entries, and significant support from the community with over $11,000 in awards and scholarships distributed among local young talents.

Festival president Alisha Mann said they were up by about 80 entries in comparison to last year, and they've witnessed a lot of great local talent.

"Everything went really smoothly," Mann said. "We were happy to see entry numbers up this year again, and lots of participants in the festival. We didn't have a whole bunch of cancellations for volunteers or participants. That was really good. And it's just really nice to see so much music going on in the city."

The festival ran from March 10-23, with students from the southeast demonstrating their musical skills in different disciplines and classes while being adjudicated. This year the festival added an electric guitar discipline and several new classes.

"We added a few new classes to our local addendum. … We run on the provincial curriculum, their syllabus, and then if we feel that locally we want to add other classes that aren't addressed with the provincial syllabus, then we can do that," Mann explained.

"So, we added classes for the electric guitar. We added more classes for classical guitar. And we added some different piano classes as well for recognizing pop music as it is getting to be a popular thing for the kids. They want to play that instead of classical music all the time. And then we brought in a sing and play class where you can accompany yourself and do a vocal performance, and we had one entry in that as well. It was nice to see those classes used."

Mann noted adjudicators were also impressed with the students and were also great in providing feedback and guidance for the kids.

"We had great adjudicators this year. And they were really helpful with the students, very happy with how the festival was run here and the level of performance from the kids as well. Especially the piano adjudicator mentioned she was very impressed with the level of piano skill being taught in the Estevan community. That was really nice to hear, a kind of a feather in the cap for all the piano teachers, that they are doing a really excellent job with their students," Mann said.

Festival organizers added that in order to become a district winner and compete at the provincial level, performers have to enter into designated provincial classes at their local festival and receive a mark of 87 or higher. The Estevan and district festival is allowed to send two district winners from each class. 

"This year we are pleased to announce three district winners: Kensie Aspinall, Hudsyn Hozjan and Jennika Linthicum. Each has qualified to compete in two provincial classes in June in Saskatoon," said Margaret Duncan with the festival.

"This year is a high number for us for provincials," Mann noted. "It's really good that we're able to send representation from our community to the provincial event."

Two students were also recognized with prestigious local awards. Jacob Pyra became the 2024 Murray GM multi-discipline award recipient, entering eight solo and three duet classes in four different disciplines, and Sarah Kimball is the Dwight Thompson Memorial runner-up award recipient for entering six solos in two disciplines.                                

The community traditionally stepped forward to ensure the success of the festival.

"We always have excellent support from the community. We have a huge number of donors and sponsors for our event, and also for the scholarships that we award to the kids. So it was a lot of work to get that all organized and put together but we have a volunteer who does a great job," Mann said. "We were able to give out over $11,000 in scholarships this year, and that's all from community donations from businesses and individuals."

The festival is brought together in about two months and takes a lot of work from many dedicated volunteers, but always comes as a great celebration of music in the community.