Photo contributed The Shuswap Middle School Grade 8 Concert Band is the largest band ever to enter the Shuswap Music Festival, which concludes with the Best of the Festival gala on Friday, April 28, 7 p.m., at The Nexus at First United Church.

Participants bring their best to festival

Shuswap Music Festival concludes with April 28 gala

They just kept coming – 146 excited Grade 8 students with instruments in hand, packed the Prestige Hotel ballroom early on the morning of April 12 to open the 17th Annual Shuswap Music Festival.

The Shuswap Middle School Grade 8 Concert Band is the largest band ever to enter the festival. The festival, which hosts competitions in band, strings, piano, vocal and choir, runs to the end of April.

Open to young and amateur musicians and vocalists throughout the Shuswap and North Okanagan, the festival encourages and celebrates musical talent. Professional musicians brought to Salmon Arm as adjudicators provide valuable and constructive critiques on performances.

Don Bennett, adjudicator for the bands at this year’s festival, is an educator and professional musician who performed as the principal trombonist with the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra for 26 years.

He was astonished and heartened at the size of the Grade 8 band. Wendy Woodhurst, principal of Shuswap Middle School, credits the numbers to a compulsory music program in Grades 7 and 8, which was an administrative decision at her school to support music.

For middle-school students in the area interested in pursuing music, an exceptional music and band program awaits them at the Salmon Arm High School campuses of Jackson (Grades 9-10) and Sullivan (Grades11-12).

Music teacher Brian Pratt-Johnson directs the concert and jazz band programs at the two campuses.

Bennett, impressed by the high school bands and underscoring the importance of first impressions, remarked, “You present yourselves as professionals. You look good… You must be good!”

Throughout the first day of the festival, Bennett conducted hour-long master classes with each band – refining techniques, honing skills and providing insight into musical interpretations.

“We need music in every kid’s life,” stressed Bennett, who is a strong proponent of the value of music in brain development.

While schools across the province are cutting band programs, Shuswap Schools are cultivating new musicians… and more creative minds.

The festival competitions in strings, piano, vocal and choir continue from April 18 to 25 at First United Church and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.

Nationally and internationally acclaimed musicians adjudicate all performances.

Program schedules, are available online at www.ShuswapFestival.com. The festival concludes with a gala concert showcasing the ‘Best of the Festival” and the presentation of awards at 7 p.m. Friday, April 28 at First United Church. Everyone is welcome. Admission to the gala is $10 per person or $20 per family.