Howe Sound Music Festival draws 120 competitors 

Sea to Sky event enters 21st season with pro performances, medals and scholarships

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The Howe Sound Music Festival, which presents singers, choirs and pianists from Pemberton to Lions Bay, and it has come of age in its 21st season.

Executive director Colleen Koop says 120 entries will take part in 200 performances during the eight-day festival, which runs from April 6 to 13.

Performers of all ages are judged by professional adjudicators, with prizes including medals, scholarships and the chance to compete in the Provincial Music Festival. 

"I've been working on the program for the last few days and it's a 44-page document already! But it's exciting working through the whole week and having that visual of how the whole thing will happen," Koop says.

"It's going to be an amazing week."

This year's adjudicators are Murray Nichol (piano), a senior examiner for Royal Conservatory Examinations, and Governor General Award winner Sandra Meister (voice and choral).

The festival culminates in a gala showcase of the gold medal-winning performances. All performances are open to the public.

Competitors are vying for a record $1,850 in total scholarship money. Individuals can receive scholarships ranging from $50 to $150.

"The scholarship money is donated by the public and goes back to the students. That's up from $1,300 from last year. We've had such incredible support. People have been so generous, it's a huge jump," Koop says.

Donors can donate to individual classes and the adjudicators can decide which performances stand out.

"Donors see the value in this. It's such an educational experience for the parent, the teachers, and the students. Even for audience members. People are learning more about the classical music that they're not familiar with and gaining an understanding about the history behind it," Koop says.

Along with amateur performances, for the first time the festival is bookended by two professional concerts in Squamish.

"The kids are getting all excited and hyped for the festival and performing their pieces. We wanted to bring in some really top-notch musicians and give a little flavour of some exciting music," says Koop.

Canadian and international award-winning pianists Ross Salvosa and Scott Meek perform under the name Two to Tango, playing tango music on the piano simultaneously. Their show takes place at St. John's Anglican Church in Squamish on Sunday, April 6 at 4 p.m.

"(Salvosa and Meek's) repertoire is all tango music. These two are quite the powerhouses as individual soloists. They combined their talents in 2010, four hands on piano, and they are brilliant," says Koop.

"At the end of the week we have Three's Company, two vocalists and a pianist. They're doing a potpourri of vocal music from the 20th century and beyond."

Three's Company include vocalists Joani Bye and Janet Warren, along with Dave Pickell on piano, and takes place at St. John's Anglican Church on Saturday, April 12, at 7:30 pm.

Tickets for both are $20 for adults and $10 for students, available at Billie's Flowers.

Koops says the festival is very much a two-way street, in terms of the aims. The students perform but they also learn a lot from being adjudicated and from seeing the performers.

"There's a huge educational component to it. I started playing in festivals when I was five years old. I look at this and think 'What goes around, comes around' and this is why we do this. We put many, many hours into it. But when I sit and listen to these kids perform, it's amazing. That, to me, is so worth every hour," she says.

Also new this year is a choral workshop at Garibaldi Highlands Elementary School, and includes 200 children from that school, along with Brackendale, Mamquam and Valleycliffe Elementaries. The Kamloops Honour Choir is also taking part.

Koop says she hopes to bring back a fourth component of the festival and competition: band music.

"When I started it in 2001, we did have the band element. I'm hoping by next year we can bring it back," she says.

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