The Thoughtful Few

‍To Festival or not to Festival 

‍Competition in the past and present

‍I grew up as a competitive musician. To me competition was about community and the opportunity to play, to others it was sometimes rather frightening. I was always told that my experience in competition would change my life, helping me to get grants and secure jobs, while developing a strong sense of self. That advice was true. 

‍Recently, I wrote this letter for the Federation of Canadian Music Festivals in support of competition in all its forms and the growth it offers to us all. I believe in the blessings that this letter presents and I want to share those thoughts with you….

‍I am so very blessed.

‍Blessed to have parents who cared about a balance of physical strength, arts and academics. Blessed to have teachers at school that understood and supported my passion. Blessed to have instrumental instructors who pushed me to the highest standards. And so very blessed to have an organization that fed my passion and drive for perfection, my excitement to be part of a community and a competition – the Canadian music festival movement. My first festival competitions were at the age of 5 and I was hooked. Every year my teachers and I would plan repertoire to fit both RCM exams and the music festival. I was obsessed. I wished to fulfill the goals set by my teachers, while making my parents proud. And, how I craved the time that would be spent with members of my studio and studios across the province as we joined together to perform for each other and for wise and inspirational adjudicators.

Duets with my sister, Laurie, were the best. Here we are playing at Gustin House in Saskatoon in the 1970’s.

Before long I was competing as a pianist, trumpeter and in speech arts. My parents, sisters and grandparents were such great support – and to this day I can still see my tireless mom mouthing the words to my speech arts pieces from the audience. Some years, I was in as many as 14 classes in Brass, Piano and Speech. And what did I learn? I learned how to behave, dress, speak, bow, walk and communicate positively with others. I learned to perform with others, first my sister as duet partner, and later, pianist colleagues as second piano for concerti – finally the incredible skills offered by my teachers and professional collaborative pianists for second piano or competition repertoire. I learned to be a good competitor while staying true to my own standards of technique and interpretation. I grew up.

And I was so very lucky. My natural gifts, trained and balanced by my teachers lead to me competing at the National Music Festival by the age of 11. I competed 4 times at the Nationals, often at the CNE grounds in Toronto in the Music Building and Queen Elizabeth Theatre and one year at UofT. At the end of the CNE when cleanup was yet to begin, the fairway was silent, buildings closed, papers and wrappers blowing into banks like snow. Yes – the grounds were silent but those buildings were not. Canada’s best musicians were there and the music rose from four different halls, inspiring young and old alike. It was amazing for me. I went to support every Saskatchewan candidate of course but there were others, performers that demanded attention, whose gift was undeniable, not to be missed. I came second on my first time out and second again at my next appearance at the Nationals. One year I participated as the collaborative pianist for the Saskatchewan team. And finally, on a year where I competed in both brass and piano categories, I won the brass and went on to win the grand award.

Clearly, the Music Festival movement brings a community together; competitors, family, teachers, volunteers, collaborative pianists, festival administration, adjudicators and audience. This movement trains all professionals in our communities, doctors, lawyers, professors, academics, accountants, researchers and the most informed audiences in the world.

So, in the end, we are all blessed. 

- Guy Few (April, 2019)

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