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Festival 500 brings together voices from all across Labrador

By Emilie Bourque Whittle | Feb. 23, 2012

Festival 500, often thought of as a summertime event held every two years in St. John’s, also has several sister events. One of them is the Labrador Festival, happening Feb. 23-26.

The four-day event hosted in Happy Valley-Goose Bay will feature group rehearsals of a pan-Labrador massed youth choir, conducted by Kellie Walsh, professional associate with the School of Music. A massed adult choir will also perform, conducted by Doug Dunsmore, a professor with the School of Music and the artistic director of Festival 500. Workshops will also take place at local schools, along with several mini-master classes. One unique opportunity will be a beat-boxing clinic with Andrew Williams.

Performing at a Saturday-night gala at the Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre will be both choirs, plus guest chorus Pieces of Eight, a world-class ensemble from St. John’s.

Since it originated in 1997, Festival 500 has been coming to Labrador, but, in more recent iterations, it has included much more participation on the part of Labradorians.

“The local committee wanted to have a festival that was not something just brought out to tour Labrador,” said Dr. Dunsmore. “They wanted to have a youth project and an adult project that would perform in a local gala, just like in St. John's.”  

That soon became a reality.

“With the help of the Labrador committee and local choirs, as well as school programs throughout Labrador, this has been put in place,” said Dr. Dunsmore. “The pride of ownership by Labradorians is palpable, and their joy in making fine choral music together creates an excitement that leaves a buzz in the community for weeks after the event.”

“The festival is very well-received,” said Janet Wiseman, the Labrador Festival committee chair. “I travel the coast of Labrador with my job and the students start in September, asking about the festival and pondering about the music ‘Kellie and Dr. Doug’ are going to pick out.”  

Ms. Wiseman says the festival ensures that even though the performers are "geographically challenged" with respect to major musical performances, they are exposed to different styles of music, instruments and the joy of sharing a musical bond.

And music isn't the only thing created throughout the event, Ms. Wiseman said. It also makes way for meaningful connections and new experiences.

“It is truly a joy to witness the friendships developed over the weekend between students in various parts of Labrador. This event also provides students the opportunity to perform on a stage with an audience larger than the population of some of their communities.”

For more information on this event, visit the Labrador Festival website.