Vital People: Young performers to take stage at Victoria festival

In the next six weeks, more than 5,000 performers will take the stage, many for their first time, to compete in the Greater Victoria Performing Arts Festival.

Success and recognition at this regional event can lead talented hopefuls to provincial and national levels. The festival celebrates its 87th anniversary this year.

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In sessions in venues around the city, Victorians will have the opportunity to see promising musicians, dancers and performers showcase their talents in adjudicated performances in brass, classical guitar, choral, composition, dance (school and studio), ethnic performance, fiddle, musical theatre, piano, school bands, school orchestras, speech and dramatic arts, strings, voice and woodwinds.

“The festival is one of the main performing arts events of the year,” said Stephen Green, dean of the Victoria Conservatory of Music. “It is especially important for the young performer because of its accessibility — it gives them an opportunity to perform in public.”

About 200 students from the conservatory are scheduled to perform at this year’s festival. Some compete every year, while others attend every other year.

The festival sees dozens of significant awards and trophies presented, including the Rose Bowl (Classical Voice), the City of Victoria Medallion Tray (Piano) and the Roberto and Mary Wood Scholarship, the largest of its type in Canada. The best musicians can go on to compete in provincial and national music festivals.

While not every contestant will take home a trophy, they all return richer for the experience.

“It is a great experience to perform in front of an impartial adjudicator,” said Michelle Morson, the dance teacher for Mount Douglas High School. “But more importantly, it is an opportunity for the students to see what the other schools are doing, to get ideas, interact with other kids and get inspiration. Some have never performed in front of an audience — apart from their parents — before. It’s an invaluable educational and performing experience for them.”

Her students range from those who are new to the discipline to those who take dance lessons outside of school. Her greatest challenge at the festival is to choreograph group dance routines in which all of her students look equally good.

Morson is certainly qualified to shepherd the children, who range from Grade 9 to 12, through the festival, as she herself laid the foundations for her career by competing at the festival when she was a child. Graduates of her class have gone on to further their education or pursue careers in dance in New York and Los Angeles.

But even after all the medals are given out and the stage is once more silent after the last performance in May, the festival lives on.

“Every year, we have students come up to let us know how much it meant to them to have had a chance to shine,” Green said.

The Greater Victoria Performing Arts Festival is a non-profit society and registered charity. It is able to stage the event in part with funding from the Victoria Foundation and the work of about 300 volunteers.

The festival runs April 1 to May 12 at various venues in Victoria. Admission to adjudicated sessions is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, students and children.

A $20 festival program entitles the bearer to all sessions during the six-week festival. Tickets can be purchased at the door.

Tickets to concerts are $12 for adults, $8 for seniors, students and children. Studio dance and school dance at Farquhar Auditorium venues are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, students and children. The Roberto and Mary Wood Scholarship Concert is $20 for adults, $10 for seniors, students and children. For more information, go to

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