When the Pacific Northwest Music Festival started 50 years ago, it was the brainchild of several people who wanted a place for music students to perform without judgment, to learn from others and to have fun.
It began small, spanning four days with classes in piano, voice, several instrument classes and an open entry class for musicians whose instruments weren’t included in the other classes.
Participants came from Terrace, Prince Rupert and Kitimat, performed at the civic centre that was in George Little Park, and closed out the festival with the scholarship and gala nights.
For the first festival, 400 entrants performed for adjudicators Phyllis Schuldt and Mrs. P. Ringwood. On the final night, the Terrace “Omineca” Herald reported that Schuldt praised the festival committee for a “tremendous job in organizing their first such event” and hoped that consecutive festivals would show continued improvement and serve to encourage young musicians in the Terrace-Kitimat-Prince Rupert area. Smithers music students had been going to Burns Lake for music festivals but in later years started coming here instead.
In 1973, there were 36 accordion entries and a specialist brought in for those classes.
Classes that didn’t have entries for several years would be removed but could be brought back if there were entrants. In the last couple of years here, mime classes have been added again.
In 1974, the original name of the Northwest Music Festival added the word ‘Pacific’ to acknowledge the contribution of participants from surrounding communities.
That year half of the 875 entries were from Terrace. The 10th music festival in 1975 marked the opening of the REM Lee Theatre and the festival was the first event to take place there.
In 1978, dance was added into the program.
In 1984, the 19th festival saw 1,128 entries from an estimated 4,000 participants and five venues used to handle the increase in entries: the REM Lee Theatre, Cassie Hall school, Caledonia lecture theatre, the Alliance Church and Kitimat’s Mount Elizabeth school theatre.
Participants could enter six categories now, instead of a maximum of five, and the classes now included organ.
The 20th festival welcomed 1,500 participants ages four and up.
In 1988, a two-day speech arts workshop was organized for January and a three-day piano study workshop in February.
Guitar was added to the program for the 27th festival in 1992.
In 1998, the dance program was reevaluated, which according to festival president Bonnie Juniper meant taking a look at how to handle that class since it was increasing in size.
The festival welcomed 2,000 entrants in 2001, 2003 and in 2004, which that year including 280 piano, 76 vocal, 268 woodwind, 22 guitar and 40 bands.
It also noted a band entry from Perth, Ontario as the farthest ever to come for the festival.
Bonnie Juniper, who’s been president of the music festival committee for a number of years, credits the people in the northwest for the continuing success of the festival.
“I think it’s the people who live in our area, in the whole north. If the people here didn’t value the arts and support it, it doesn’t matter how many volunteers you round up, if you do not have community support and involvement and believe that it is a very, very good thing, I don’t think you have a very good thing,” she said. “The focus being on learning and you know, not just winning. That’s the worst reason to be doing music or anything like that. You should be doing it because you love the arts and love what you do.”
This year boasts 1,400 entries and once again, entrants can take part in as many classes as they want, she said.
There’s a great small town feel about the festival that can be difficult to maintain.
“The adjudicators are always commenting on how much people support each other and that’s the biggest challenge: keeping it like that,” said Juniper. “I don’t want communities pitted against each other. Just come and make music with us.”
This year, all the adjudicators are ones who have been here before.
“They’re all thrilled to be asked to be back and be part of the 50th,” said Juniper.
Several special concerts and workshops are set for this year during the festival. One is the Composition Concert features the finished work from the ‘What’s the Score’ workshop series held to encourage and develop composition skills of aspiring new composers in the area. The special events are listed on page 22 in the festival program.
The 50th Pacific Northwest Music Festival begins tomorrow, April 16, and runs through May 2.