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Reinventing the Kiwanis Music Festival of Guelph during a Pandemic

By Heather Fleming, Festival Coordinator
2.Members of Concorde - Senior Performing Group of the Suzuki String School of Guelph. Photo courtesy of KMFG_Ken Gee 2018
Members of Concorde - Senior Performing Group of the Suzuki String School of Guelph. Photo courtesy of KMFG_Ken Gee 2018

When COVID-19 struck in March of 2020, the Kiwanis Music Festival had no choice but to cancel the Festival outright.  Over 1,000 aspiring young musicians were heartbroken to lose one of their favourite annual performance opportunities.  The Festival is the largest youth services program in the arts in our community and normally sees over 3,000 performers each year.

As the pandemic raged on, and we realized it was less and less likely that life would return to normal for our 2021 Festival, we began preparations to host a combination in-person and virtual Festival.  Realizing that the existing database could not support a virtual Festival, we hired a web designer to create a brand-new, state-of-the-art, online database.

February 2021 brought renewed optimism as COVID-19 restrictions were eased and some in-person activities were permitted.  The Festival booked Guelph Youth Music Centre for 3 weeks in April in the hopes of holding in-person classes for Piano, Strings, and Harp.  Virtual Festival options were extended to these disciplines as well as for Brass & Winds, Guitar, Recorder, Speech Arts, Ukulele, and Voice.  The Festival received over 500 entries, but over 75% of these were for the in-person option.

When the third wave of COVID-19 struck hard in Ontario, all hopes of an in-person Festival were dashed!  However, we made a promise to hold a Festival in the spring of 2021 and nothing is going to stop us!  We pivoted to a completely virtual, online Festival format.  Everyone who registered for in-person participation was invited to switch to the virtual option or to request a refund or to donate their entry fees.

The Festival is doing everything we can to make the virtual Festival as rewarding and educational as possible for our talented musicians.  A virtual Festival still gives students a performance opportunity as well as a goal to work toward and a reason to practice and keep their creative juices flowing.  Performers will create a performance video that will be shared with Adjudicators and with their peer performers.  Adjudicators will provide detailed written commentary for each performance and will create a video to share with all performers in each discipline to provide general commentary and a bit of a personal connection.  Participants will be mailed their adjudications, certificates, and ribbons.  Masterclasses will be held for each discipline via Zoom, and all performers will be invited to attend and audit the masterclasses.  Scholarships will be awarded as selected by the Adjudicators and participants of all ages and levels can be nominated for the OMFA Provincials virtual competition.

A Virtual Highlights of the Festival Concert & Awards Ceremony will be created from the finest performances heard in the Festival this year as selected by the Adjudicators, and will be released in late May.  Scholarship recipients will receive their medals and scholarship cheques in the mail.

Although nothing can replace the thrill of performing for a live audience, and students face many and varied challenges when recording their videos, we know how important it is to our musical community to keep the Kiwanis Music Festival alive and well during these challenging times that are especially detrimental to our children and young people.  On the home page of our website,, you will find the following inspiration for our music teachers, students, and their families: Amid the concerns surrounding COVID-19, it is our social responsibility to make every effort and take every precaution to keep each other safe and healthy.  Keep singing and playing everyone!  Brighter days are ahead!  Be well!



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