Mrs. I. Tarlton, Mrs. M. Bruce, and Mrs. M. Robertson are delighted when the Cowichan Music Festival finally gets its beautiful Steinway grand piano in 1963. (Jay Powley photo)

Cowichan Music Festival celebrates 70 years in 2019

With seven decades of success behind it, the festival is still encouraging young Cowichan talent

BY KAROLYN SHERMAN AND BARBARA STONE

The Cowichan Music Festival is celebrating it’s 70th Anniversary in 2019.

It began as a project of the Parent-Teacher Auxiliary in 1949.

Parents, teachers, principals, music and performing arts teachers enthusiastically supported an event to encourage students to reach for a higher standard of learning in their chosen field. The first chairman was Mr. Bill Allester, principal of Duncan Elementary School. Original committee members included Mr. J. Moore, Mr. B. Howard, Mrs. F. Paget, Miss E. Evans, Miss Monk, Mrs. H. Robson, Mrs. Lamonte, Mrs. Joughin and Miss Cowie.

The Cowichan Music Festival began with 50 entries. Participants entered their chosen sessions free while audience members were charged: 15 cents for children and 35 cents for adults.

The sections included Speech Arts, Dance, Piano, Choral, Violin and Instruments.

By 1955 Mayor J.C. Wragg of Duncan and Mayor C. Murison of North Cowichan were speaking about the Music Festival, calling attention to “the important place the event holds in the community”. The entries had grown to 350 and included Speech Arts, Dance, Piano, Choral, Violin and Instruments.

Today, with the addition of Musical Theatre and Bands, there are approximately 900 entries.

In 1963, Vancouver piano adjudicator Phyllis Schuldt noted that students in the piano section of the Cowichan Music Festival were having to play on a “glorified matchbox”.

She offered to return and give a concert to help raise funds to buy a decent piano. The Music Festival committee enthusiastically agreed and through her initiative and contacts the 1923 black Grand D model Steinway piano was purchased from Eaton’s in Vancouver, for $5,000.

In 1988 this piano was refinished in Vancouver and in 2006 the piano was sent to the Steinway Company in New York for a complete refurbishing, at a cost of $25,000.

The Steinway piano now lives in its own environmentally controlled room in the Cowichan Theatre and is lovingly cared for by piano tuner and technician Jim Anderson, of Victoria. Its estimated value is $150,000.

The Cowichan Music Festival is affiliated with Performing Arts B.C. and the Federation of Canadian Music Festivals, which allows the award winning students to advance to a higher level of competition. Over the years many of the students have successfully performed at this level and many have gone on to have careers in the performing arts.

The Cowichan Music Festival is organized and run by an executive committee with help from a large group of volunteers.

Many Valley residents may not know that the Festival has no outside funding and is dependent on entry fees and performance attendance to pay for adjudication costs, theatre costs and rentals.

The executive committee extends a large thank you to individuals, schools, community groups, local government and businesses, churches and service clubs that have played such a significant role in supporting the festival over the last 70 years.

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