Thursday, March 15, 2012

Musicfest: Power Boost Needed

A Great Event and a Great Opportunity For New Sponsorship

One hundred and ten (110) school bands with a total membership of 3500 music students converged on the city a couple of weeks ago. It was the occasion of the 7th Annual Golden Horseshoe Musicfest (GHMF). Held for the first time this year at Mohawk College’s Fennell campus, this ambitious educational event brings school and community instrumental groups face to face with some of Ontario’s finest professional adjudicators, and sets the national performance standard for concert bands, jazz bands and orchestras.

Of the 29 Hamilton ensembles entered, 16 earned gold awards, 11 earned silver, and 1 earned bronze. Eighteen invitations to attend the National Musicfest were awarded. GHMF is one of the most important educational events for Hamilton area music students and their teachers. It provides accountability, motivation and excellent instruction from the country's best band clinicians. Full results can be viewed on the festival website.

Adjudicator Rob Somerville remarked that the performance calibre of some of the younger jazz bands was surprising, and that in at least one case he thought they were older players because of their stylistic and playing chops! Festival Chair Ron Palangio observed that there are a number of secondary schools whose concert band performances were outstanding, and that they were capable of playing the most difficult repertoire.

Here is a synopsis of the Musicfest story in the Hamilton area.

First Year at a New Venue

In 2006, Musicfest Canada encouraged the formation of a new regional festival committee in Hamilton to replace the St. Catherines Musicfest which had been operating for 20 years. Ron Palangio became the first Regional Coordinator, and Hamilton’s Redeemer College was found to be a suitable and willing venue. In GHMF's first year, 79 groups participated. Every year since then, between 100 and 110 groups have been involved. The committee members at present are Ron Palangio (Regional Coordinator), Jim Howard Jr., Jacqueline Howard, Fraser Hebert, and Gerald Smink.

The GHMF serves a very large area, with bands coming from as far away as Oshawa and Simcoe. If the GHMF was to end, the nearest alternative festival for concert bands would be too far away in Markham or London, while jazz ensembles would need to travel far to Humber College or York University. Therefore, it is vitally important that a Musicfest event is maintained in the Hamilton area. The festival was held at Mohawk College for the first time this year.

The Musicfest model is simple. The provision of facilities, equipment, rentals, transportation, adjudicators and administration are all covered by entrance fees and by whatever partnerships the committee can forge. Additional revenues from corporate sponsorship and donations are possible and encouraged. All labour is voluntary. The regional committee has a lot of flexibility. But the downside of this model is that without sufficient support, the committee is limited in what it can do. Let’s see how this year’s GHMF fared.

The Mohawk College Music Department provided student volunteers who were on their reading week. The students helped out as MCs, stage crew, loading crew, stage hands, sound and lighting operators and hospitality. Festival chair Ron Palangio said, “The Mohawk student volunteers helped us immensely. They stuck around and helped us get everything loaded up really quickly. Ancillary Services and the MPAC staff were excellent to work with and very professional. The Music Department canceled their own non-competitive Jazz Festival so as not to conflict with the GHMF.”
Mohawk College Helpful

Mohawk College rented its space to the GHMF. The Arnie, Mohawk College’s student centre, was the venue for jazz bands. The McIntyre Theatre was the venue for concert bands. Several classrooms were made available for clinics, photography and other administrative space.

The Mohawk facility has large common areas. Imagine the impact of five or six busloads of excited, instrument-toting teenagers arriving at the same time, and unloading in the same area, and you’ll appreciate the value of Mohawk College’s vast foyer space to the festival organizers. Other benefits were ample parking, wheelchair accessibility and easy to access food services.

A few other organizations provided sponsorship. Palangio said, “Long and McQuade and Yamaha Canada were our major sponsors who provided large percussion equipment, amplifiers, PA, recording equipment and technical support. We couldn't operate without them. Pongetti Music supplied the equipment for the jazz warm up room. St. John's Music from Waterloo sponsors us with cash to subsidize the cost of one adjudicator. We also sell advertising in our program from local music vendors but this really only covers the cost of printing the program.”

As I speak with Palangio, who has chaired the GHMF committee since it was formed, he is clearly grateful for the many volunteers and sponsors who have come forward over the years, but he is worried about the festival’s future. Here are a couple of examples. One of the limitations faced this year was the lack of music stands and percussion instruments in the clinic rooms. At least two sets of twenty music stands were lacking. Drummers were tapping their sticks on desks during workshops. Another limitation is the inability to provide trophies for winning ensembles. Lack of volunteer time and money manifests itself in many other ways, such as not being able to ramp up publicity, press coverage, and increase audience attendance. Administering the registration of participants is a full-time job in itself.

The festival committee needs additional support. Since its inception in 2006, the committee has declined in active members. Some of the members are from out of town, which leaves the bulk of work in the hands of the local memers. The present situation is hardly sustainable. A major power boost is needed.

The GHMF committee's wish list for the future reads like this. They need to:
  • Be able to welcome more committee members, probably highly motivated music teachers with event managing skills who want to make a difference in the community.
  • Meet someone who can help forge more new partnerships with local sponsors, from within the educational sector, the music and tourism sectors and other community minded businesses.
  • Secure a significant team of financial sponsors, or one major sponsor, to ensure that GHMF will be able to provide the best possible music festival experience for our young musicians.
  • Have sufficient volunteers on board to ensure that participants have the best possible musical learning experience, and that opportunities to grow the festival can be seized.
This list is worth serious consideration by all our music stakeholders and community leaders.

Here are more suggestions. Mohawk College, as an education stakeholder, could ramp up its support of Musicfest in several significant ways.
  • It could provide its facilities for free or at a reduced rate.
  • It could provide administrative, transportation, and/or printing services.
  • The College leadership could become more visibly involved, e.g. honorary festival host.
  • Involvement of marketing program students in a cooperative venture.
  • Performances by Mohawk music students in foyer and cafeteria areas.
Consider other sources of assistance. The Hamilton Community Foundation, Tourism Hamilton, and possibly the Hamilton Music Collective are all potential partners. Volunteers are needed to help with the application process. But further, local businesses should see this as an ideal opportunity to put their name and support behind the Golden Horseshoe Musicfest. Why should Long & McQuade, Yamaha, St. John’s Music and Pongetti’s get all the publicity? Where are our local music retailers and other community-minded businesses?

Musicfest must not be left behind while other arts events in Hamilton receive sponsorship and financial support.

The goal is not to make life easier for the committed and dedicated volunteers who have been producing Musicfest up to now. No one expects it to be easy. Rather, the goal is to create a richer learning experience for each participating music student and teacher. With a focused, committed group of partners on board, the Musicfest team will have what it needs to transform next year’s Golden Horseshoe Musicfest into an even better musical experience.

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