Competition Festivals | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Competition Festivals

Competition festivals. Public, graded competitions for student and amateur classical musicians; school, amateur, and church choirs; and school, amateur, and civic instrumental ensembles. Contestants are adjudicated publicly by trained professionals who give them comparative marks.

Competition festivals

Competition festivals. Public, graded competitions for student and amateur classical musicians; school, amateur, and church choirs; and school, amateur, and civic instrumental ensembles. Contestants are adjudicated publicly by trained professionals who give them comparative marks.

Non-competition festivals, developed in reaction against the practice of giving comparative marks, are little different in other respects (for instance, though marks are not given, adjudications are), but in some instances they allow time for workshops conducted by the adjudicators. The competition type has remained the more numerous and widespread.

Both types are operated by volunteers - often a local music or service club, eg, the Men's Music Club in Winnipeg or the Kiwanis clubs in Toronto and many other cities - and are largely self-supporting, their economies based on the fees of contestants and supplementary monies raised by the sponsoring organizations. Syllabi defining classes and setting test pieces are published months in advance to allow competitors ample preparation time. There are usually some ungraded classes to permit competition by performers who, for one reason or another, are not readily gradable.

In 1990 every province in Canada and the Yukon territory had annual competition festivals, usually lasting from two days to two weeks, and also had established some form of co-ordinating 'umbrella' organization.

For a guide to other EMC articles which treat competition festivals see Competitions.

The competition festival movement as it has taken root in Canada originated in Great Britain, and the earliest of the general type was held in Edmonton in 1908 (see Alberta Music Festival Association), although a competition for fiddlers had taken place in Montreal in 1867, and one for bands took place at the Provincial Exhibition in Toronto in 1858. Band tournaments continued during the 1870s in Berlin (Kitchener), Ont, and in Montreal (see Band festivals). Governor General Earl Grey is credited with being the first to advocate strongly the development of competition festivals in Canada.

The Edmonton festival, which had 30 participants in 1908, was followed by festivals in Regina (1909, 25 participants, see Saskatchewan Music Festival Association), Winnipeg (1918, see Manitoba Music Competition Festival), Vancouver (1923, British Columbia Music Festival), and Nanaimo, BC (1928, Upper Island Musical Festival). Festivals are said to have been held in British Columbia and Manitoba as early as 1909, but these did not become annual.

Support for the festival movement was especially strong in the West, where it contributed to the development of musical activity both in the educational system and in a wider social context and helped to lessen the sense of 'musical isolation'. By 1914 265 participants were competing at the festival in Regina. After World War I Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba began to co-ordinate their festivals, avoiding conflicts in dates, sharing adjudicators, and so on. British Columbia joined this arrangement in 1923, and in 1926 representatives from the four provinces established the Federation of Canadian Music Festivals (FCMF).

In Montreal in 1922 the Delphic Study Club of Canada founded a competition festival known as Music Week. In 1923 the Metropolitan Choral Society of Montreal initiated a competition for choirs and vocal quartets, singers, and instrumentalists. Local school boards in Ontario began sponsoring competition festivals in the early 1920s (see School music). In 1923 and 1924 the Ontario Musical Association held a competition at Toronto's Massey Hall, and in 1927 the North Western Ontario Musical Competition Festival (in 1967 the Lakehead Music Festival) and the Stratford (Ont) Music Festival were established; for several years the Stratford festival was the largest in the province.

The Halifax Cons (Maritime Conservatory of Music) sponsored that city's first competition festival in 1936; Yarmouth, NS, established a festival in 1938; and the Cape Breton Competitive Musical Festival began in 1939. The Saint John Competition Festival of Music was founded in 1936 (although non-competition festivals had been part of the city's school music program for a number of years prior to this).

Manitoba claimed to have held in 1937 the largest competition festival in the British Empire. In the same year more than 5400 competed in Montreal at the first Quebec Musical Competition Festival. Father Alfred Bernier, Léon David, Louis Hasselmans, Bernard Naylor, Sir Hugh Roberton, Thomas Salignac, and Steuart Wilson were among the adjudicators during the four years of its existence, and in 1939 12,000 competed. The Prince Edward Island Music Festival was established in 1946, and the first annual competition festival in Newfoundland took place in St John's in 1952.

Not all teachers and performers have approved of competition. Many have argued that there is little value and even possible harm in young musicians vying with one another for marks and awards. Others have maintained that competition is a part of living and that competition festivals are a benign ordering of this natural tendency. In any case they have survived and increased. By 1990 the FCMF could list more than 235 affiliated festivals. In Music in Canada Richard Cooke spoke out in favour of the movement, calling it 'the most potent factor in operation today... [The] competition festival reaches all ages and nationalities... talented and less gifted performers... It sets a high standard... and in an age beset with many attacks on authentic values it is inspiring to find so many responding to the challenge' (p 206).

For many years Canadian music festivals employed British adjudicators almost exclusively, and among them were distinguished performers and educators whose knowledge, platform experience, and tact justified their near monopoly. With the development of Canada's own musical maturity, however, especially in the years after World War II, Canadian adjudicators came to be used more frequently and with increasingly satisfactory results, and the trend was reinforced by the efforts of the Canadian Music Festival Adjudicators' Association.

Kiwanis Clubs International have made perhaps the most significant contribution of any service club to the competition festival movement. The first Canadian Kiwanis Music Festival took place in Toronto in 1944. Kiwanis festivals were established later in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, and the responsibility for many competitions begun by other organizations has been assumed by the Kiwanis clubs. In 1990 Kiwanis sponsored 38 festivals in 5 provinces. Several of the Kiwanis festivals named in the appended list are the largest in their provinces. Rotary International has also participated in the competition festival movement and in 1990 supported 14 festivals in 4 provinces. Other service clubs active in music festivals include the Lions Club International, Kinsmen Clubs, and Junior Chamber International (Jaycees).

Festivals under the FCMF umbrella are held at local, provincial and national levels. Local festival adjudicators recommend competitors for the provincial level competition, where competitors are selected for the CIBC National Music Festival. All tenor provinces hold provincial festivals. In 1991 there also existed numerous festivals outside the FCMF sphere of influence, often sponsored by commercial enterprises and private conservatories.

Competition Festivals

British Columbia
Coquitlam District Musical Festival

Greater Victoria Music Festival

Upper Fraser Valley Music Festival (Lion's Club, Chilliwack)

Kiwanis festivals in Vancouver and Kelowna


Grande Prairie and District Music Festival

Kiwanis festivals (in eight centres including Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, and Red Deer)

Rotary festivals in Medicine Hat and Fort McMurray (Oilsands Rotary Music Festival)


Moose Jaw Music Festival

Regina Music Festival

Saskatoon Music Festival

Yorkton Music Festival


Brandon Festival of the Arts

Portage La Prairie Festival of the Arts

Rockwood Festival of the Arts

Winnipeg Music Competition Festival


Brockville Lions Music Festival

Lakehead Music Festival, Thunder Bay

Peel County Music Festival, Brampton

York Region Lions Music Festival, Newmarket

Kiwanis festivals in 23 centres including Brantford, Chatham, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, North Bay, Oshawa, Ottawa, Owen Sound, Peterborough, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, and Toronto

Rotary festivals in 5 centres including Belleville (Quinte Rotary Music and Dance Festival), and Walkerton (Midwestern Ontario Rotary Music Festival)


Quebec Music Competitions (Quebec Music Festivals 1960-71)

New Brunswick

Festival de musique du district #5

Fredericton Festival of Music

Greater Moncton Music Festival/Festival de musique du Moncton métropolitain

New Brunswick Competitive Festival of Music, Saint John

Nova Scotia

Bridgewater Kinsmen Music Festival

Lunenburg and District Music Festival

New Glasgow Music Festival

Truro Music Festival

Kiwanis festivals in Halifax and Sydney

Prince Edward Island

East Prince Music Festival

Kings County Music Festival

Queens County Music Festival

West Prince Music Festival


Kiwanis festivals in Carbonear (Trinity Conception Music Festival), Clarenville, Gander, Grand Falls (Central Newfoundland Kiwanis Festival), and St John's

Rotary festivals in Stephenville and Corner Brook

Yukon Territory

Yukon Music Festival in Whitehorse

Further Reading