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CanadaChanging: Chamber and Choral Fests

header_01.gif According to their information material, the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival is the largest chamber music festival in the world. It's certainly big enough - two weeks with multiple performances to choose between every day and evening. For any classical music lover, the mix of great music and intimate settings is irresistible.

But what makes Chamberfest really interesting is the mix of top-notch performers with an accessible, informal setting. Most concerts take place in heritage churches at reasonable prices, and the performers themselves are usually casual and friendly before and after performances. That lessening of distance combined with personal anecdotes and background information (not to mention sitting all together on hard church benches) gives the event a participatory flavor, especially as compared to the typical symphonic experience.

In fact, one might go so far as to say that this sort of musical event - combining top talent with a personal experience, accessible pricing, and learning opportunities - could have valuable lessons for the conference world. Imagine a venue where speakers came to talk on WorldChanging topics for a week or two, in an informal yet highly competent way. Imagine doing this in cities around the world. Why not?

On the east coast of Canada, another event takes place biennially: Festival 500. As recounted by correspondent Kathleen Allan (a senior high school student and avid music lover from St John's) the event brings thousands of choral enthusiasts from around the world to the remote province of Newfoundland, and leaves in its wake new friendships and intense experiences:

Located on the far east Canadian coast, Newfoundland has always been somewhat isolated from outside influences and traditions, which has allowed it to develop a rich and unique culture of its own. This culture, deeply rooted in its Irish, English, Scottish, French, Spanish, Portuguese and native origins, is still very alive in local modern artists.

With progress in transport and communication technology, participation in the global community is unavoidable, and one might expect a smaller population such as Newfoundland to forget its roots. Yet although many of our outport citizens are leaving the province to find work because of the decline in the fishing industry, the musical traditions still thrive in Newfoundlanders everywhere. It is by music that Newfoundland defines its unique identity, and through music that it experiences and participates in the global community.

For the first time in 1997, Newfoundland hosted the debut of Festival 500: Sharing the Voices, an international, non-competitive choral festival and academic symposium, bringing together over two thousand musicians, conductors and scholars of all ages from all over the world. Since then, the festival has taken place every two years in the province's capital city, St. John's. The festival includes concerts in several venues every afternoon and evening, and daily workshops led by internationally renowned clinicians.

For the entire city of St. John's, and much of the rest of the province, Festival 500 is an intense ten-day musical and cultural experience. Newfoundland has been relatively unknown to worldwide tourists for a long time. Being the source and host of such a unique musical event has exposed Newfoundland as a place that is proud of its origins and customs, and at the same time very welcoming to people of all kinds who come to share in its culture.

Most of the choristers who come to Festival 500 from abroad stay in the homes of local participants, or volunteers in the community. In this way, the visitors are not only able to experience Newfoundland more directly, but Newfoundlanders are given the chance to become aware of other cultures, as diverse as those of Argentina, Japan, Nunavut and Estonia.

Throughout the festival, conductors, composers and musicians from across the globe conduct interactive workshops open to all participants about various musical and cultural aspects of their experience. It is primarily through these workshops that the festival makes its impact on the participants. World experts such as Bobby McFerrin and the King's Singers, who are deeply rooted in the musical traditions of their own heritage, can share their music and their knowledge with music enthusiasts from all over - and inspire, on a personal level, further learning and experience.

To conclude the festival, the Massed Youth Choir, comprised of all the youth choirs participating, and the Massed Adult Choir, of all the adult choirs, perform in a very large concert held at St. John's' local hockey stadium. A fitting way to end ten days of cultural exchange and musical interaction, this "sharing of voices" is not only the height of the festival in its excitement in the community, but in its electrifying sense of fulfillment for the choristers involved.

My experience as a participant in Festival 500 was eye-opening, motivating and full of learning. I learned about other cultures and languages, other places, and above all, established special relationships with people from around the world. Through international music, 2000 widely diverse people were able to share each others' cultures. The feeling after the final performance is one that can only come after ten days of making unique personal connections, and living a fulfilling musical experience.

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