It’s 8:39 a.m. and I’m sitting behind the cash box at the Annapolis Valley Music Festival. A grandmother comes into the Festival Theatre as a band warms up in the lobby. She hands over the first toonie admission for the day.
Heading toward her seat, she says, “this is a good thing you’re doing.” I smile and shake my head. Lady you don’t know how little I’m contributing, I think.
Arriving that morning I’d heard the tale of a music student stagehand who’d needed emergency abdominal surgery the evening before. The need to cover for her was a keen topic of discussion among the organizers. Percussion prof Mark Adam had kindly come in early and opened up.
There’d been unexpected surgery earlier in the week that threatened to throw a hammer into the adjudication. Greg Burton came to the rescue. On the faculty at Mount Allison, he seemed happy to be back at his alma mater Acadia University.
Collecting toonies, I marvel at the practically invisible contribution of the volunteer organizers. Year after year this team of largely retired teachers create a well-oiled festival running in three or four venues. They also roll with the unexpected.
Renowned singer Measha Brueggergosman’s parents came in later. I assumed they were there to hear grandchildren play at the music festival. Her mother shared that Measha was set to perform on the Carnegie Hall stage that night. Wow!
Later, when one of the Central Kings’ bands arrived, I had to compliment teacher Paul Hutten on his natty pink jacket. He chuckled and said, “we’re the pink school.” That’s embracing school history.
Kentville music teacher, performer and composer Donna Rhodenizer was in to hear the school’s bell choir. Her colleague, Gisele Caron, conducted and the chimes sounded great. Both of these dedicated teachers are set to retire in June, which will be a double loss.
This year choral adjudicator Ross Thompson found the quality of the singing he heard was terrific. I just listened that night and thought all the gold awards were well justified.
There is a story of courage from one of the many dedicated volunteers who help put our festival. It speaks to what performing and being judged requires.
“At 9 a.m., a music teacher approached me to say that her student was not sure she was going to perform. The young lady was present, but scared to death and not at all sure she could do it. Since I was making announcements, they didn’t want me to introduce her and call attention to this situation.
As this first class was about to start, the girl did come down front and slip into her seat, so she and I had a quick confab. I told her that right up until the last second, she could give me a signal and I would say nothing. But the moment came, she stood and walked up the steps to the stage, her teacher-accompanist followed and I made the announcement.
Not the end of the story, however, the girl sang the first two lines and her throat just closed up. I’m sure everyone in the audience was as upset as she was. There could not have been a more sympathetic crowd since we all knew exactly what she was feeling. She turned and looked panic-stricken at her accompanist who said quietly, “Do you want to try it again?” And this gutsy kid, her eyes full of tears, said ‘yes.’
So the girl took a deep breath and wiped her eyes, The opening bars were played again, and this time the music came out. (We’re talking a difficult song 'Think of Me’ from Phantom of the Opera) But by the time she got to the third line and stepped forward even further into her light, the sound was crystalline and the girl was beautiful.
Among the words she sang were: ‘Remember me once in a while, Please promise me, you'll try.’ No problem, kiddo. I remember you very well indeed - and know what you accomplished.
Listening to and performing music has much to teach us. They are what music festivals are really about and I think these stories keep volunteers motivated.
This year the provincial music fest will be held at Acadia University May 31 and June 1. If you attend, you’ll note the importance of music in the lives of all those who participate.
- Former Advertiser and Register reporter Wendy Elliott lives in Wolfville.