When the 44th Annual Rotary Music Festival begins on April 11, Whitehorse can expect to hear a fresh collection of musical talent from artists young and old.

“This year we are running with things that have worked in previous years,” says Edith Belanger, festival coordinator.

She explains the festival will become about “who the participants are, and who is teaching” rather than what’s being taught.

Established in 1969 by the Whitehorse Choral Society, the Rotary Music Festival (originally named the Whitehorse Music Festival) is an annual 10-day festival/workshop series hosted in the Yukon’s capital.

A young musician performs at last year’s festival Credit: PHOTO: Bruce Barrett

The festival aims to provide a performance venue “to perform in a healthy, positive environment and to enhance their pride in their accomplishments,” as stated on their website.

Belanger has been coordinating the event for the past five years alongside committee members who represent various musical associations in the territory such as Yukon Registered Music Teachers’ Association (YRMTA), Yukon Music Educators’ Association (YMEA) and Suzuki Strings Association (SSA).

“By 1971 the scope of the festival had increased greatly, and the young Rotary Club of Whitehorse agreed to provide assistance,” says Belanger, providing a brief history.

Now solely funded by the Rotary Club of Whitehorse, members donate both money and time, and the festival accepts around 1,200 participants each year from all over the Yukon.

There is no age-range on participation, and the festival features individual student performers as young as six years old, and even a community choir with pre-school participants.

The festival also features a large number of adult performers who add a refreshing perspective to the mix.

Every year the festival hosts a range of adjudicators with different specializations. This year includes seven experts in the field of piano, guitar, strings, band, choir, woodwinds, and percussion.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” says Grant Simpson, jazz and pop adjudicator, “It’ll be nice to see what the teachers are doing, and what the students are doing.”

Simpson, a professional musician based in Whitehorse, was once a music teacher for the festival, but hasn’t been involved over the past nine years due to his busy touring schedule.

He specializes in the piano, but also plays guitar, banjo, mandolin and bass.

He began teaching privately in his 20s—a job that allowed him to be at home while his kids grew up. Now that they are older, Simpson is back on the road and as busy as ever.

Whitehorse’s Grant Simpson will be adjudicating and performing at the Rotary Music Festival 

Simpson created the original jazz curriculum with Henry Klassen, who has been with the festival since the beginning. This year will be Simpson’s first turn at adjudicating.

“The role of the adjudicators is to evaluate the students piece of music and to help them take it a step further, ” says Simpson, “And also to recognize the exceptional talents at the festival.”

Joining Simpson as adjudicators are classical guitarist Don Hlus, from Vancouver, mezzo-soprano Fabiana Katz and pianist Ian Parker, both from Vancouver, violinist Kathryn Ranger, from the Victoria Conservatory of Music, pianist Diana Weins (returning), from Edmonton, and conductor Dr. Angela Schroeder, from the University of Alberta in Calgary.

Over the course of the festival, different sessions will be held at the Yukon Arts Center (300 College Drive) and the Riverdale Baptist Church (15 Duke Street), with a final concert on Saturday, April 21 at the Arts Centre.

Various trophies and medallions are awarded to students based on the scoring from the adjudicators. In addition some of the trophies also include a scholarship to be spent on furthering the winning student’s musical career.