The show goes on

Canadian music festival doesn’t let COVID-19 call all the shots.

Story by Orillia Kiwanis member Don Haskins • Photos courtesy of OrilliaMatters and Bo Huang

At a time when many music festivals across Canada were canceling due to COVID-19, the long-running Kiwanis Music Festival in Orillia, Ontario, wasn’t about to be silenced by the coronavirus.

Given the festival’s history of more than 60 years, the festival’s artistic director, Amanda Stanton, refused to let a pandemic cancel this special opportunity for so many in our community.

“I knew there was a way around this … and couldn’t stand the thought of all of those musicians, who had spent the past several months preparing, having yet another thing canceled,” she says.

“I watched my own kids’ disappointment as school closed, extracurricular activities stopped, sleepover and birthday parties were postponed. We wanted to give everyone something to work toward and something to look forward to. Some normalcy during these very uncertain times.”

So what did Stanton and her committee decide? They decided to go virtual. In fact, they decided very early on.

Amanda Stanton

“We believe this is the best way to honor the preparation and practice the students and teachers have put in so far — and still give everyone an opportunity for feedback and well-deserved recognition for their dedication to their music,” Stanton says.

Participants recorded their performances using a smartphone or other device and then uploaded the recordings as unlisted/private videos to the festival collection site. Performances were watched and assessed by professional adjudicators, who provided a written adjudication sheet and mark (if applicable). Certificates were provided to performers, just as in the “live” festival. Scholarships and trophies were awarded at the conclusion of the festival, and monetary grants were given to select applicants.

The virtual festival was even able to handle large groups. 

“At first, we thought we wouldn’t be able to accommodate school groups,” Stanton says. “However, we were pleasantly surprised to see an abundance of creativity and willingness to stay involved. Some school and choir teachers used free sound-mixer apps to piece together their students’ performances.”

The live showcase concert that traditionally caps off the festival was replaced with streamed Facebook concerts consisting of adjudicator-recommended performances.

Korine Keyzer, the Orillia Kiwanis Club’s 2019-20 president, was delighted to see the initiative when it was put forward by Stanton and the festival committee. 

Aaron Hodgson

“I am thrilled — and so proud of this group for keeping this event alive,” Keyzer says. “I have received emails from personal friends whose kids participated, and they are so happy this happened.” 

Aaron Hodgson was also gratified by the commitment to the festival. As its instrumental division adjudicator, he summed up what the virtual format means to musicians. 

“Even though it sometimes feels like a real pain to do some of these things online,” Hodgson says, “I think all of us, especially musicians, are really craving to be able to do something, to connect with one another. I’m really happy that the festival went ahead this way, and that we got a chance to connect somehow and make music — which is really, really important right now.”

The show-biz adage is that the show must go on. In 2020 and 2021, in spite of COVID-19’s stay-at-home requirements, the Orillia Kiwanis Music Festival went on. On behalf of our community, thanks to Amanda Stanton and all of the volunteers who made it possible during this difficult time. Well done, everyone!

— OrilliaMatters, Metroland Media (Orillia Today) and SUNonline/Orillia contributed to this story.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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