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Kiwanis Speech Arts Festival in transition this year

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The last 87th Annual Lethbridge Kiwanis Music and Speech Arts Festival kicks off this week.

Lethbridge Kiwanis Music and Speech Arts Festival general manager Beth Cook (right)  is excited to pass the baton over to new director Natasha Tompkins (Left).
It runs March 27-April 8 at seven different venues and features over 1,000 entrants this year.
Though Kiwanis club are backing away from the festival, the festival will continue next year under a slightly different name and brand new organizing board.
“It will be two weeks of exciting performances of over 1,000 entries,” enthused general manager Beth Cook, who is stepping down from the position after this festival winds up April 8 with the Stars of the Festival Concert.

“We have a lot more choral entries this year and such a diverse group,” Cook enthused, adding there are seven venues, most of them located in the downtown core.

“But we’ve added Chinook High school as a venue, because they have  a  band including a choir which has 160 students in it,” she said, noting it was easier to use Chinook as a venue rather than coordinate transportation  for that many students. Performances take place every day in the Sterndale Bennett Theatre and Yates Theatre,  Southminster United Church, St. Augustine‘s Hall ( 411-11 St South), St. Patrick’s Fine Arts Elementary School (80 Riverglen Rd. W) and at the Downtown library.

 As usual, there are two big concerts. The Musical Theatre Showcase, featuring the best musical theatre performances of the week happens at the Yates Theatre, April 1 at 7:30 p.m. And the Stars of the Festival concert happens at the Yates Theatre, April 8 at 7:30 p.m. Admission to each show is five dollars each.

“And we have 13 adjudicators coming from B.C, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. We have an increased number of strings sessions. So there is significant growth and we have14 provincial medal classes including five voice, four choral, one woodwinds, one strings and three musical theatre classes,” she summarized.

“We’ll be having 81 sessions, morning, afternoon and most evenings,“ she continued. There are vocalists, choirs, bands, piano, winds, brass, percussion, guitar, handbells, string and musical theatre performances plus junior and senior speech arts performances all over the city for the next two weeks.

Pipe organ sessions are not happening this year.
“We only had three entries last year,” she said.

 Cook is retiring this year.
“I have knee surgery scheduled for next year and I don’t know when it will be,” said Cook, noting she took over as festival manager in 2010 from Carole Roberts.

“It’s been a great run. I’ve enjoyed meeting the people, especially the young musicians and speech artists,” said Cook.


Andrea Roberts is excited to have students in the Kiwanis Speech and Arts Festival this year. Photo by Richard Amery
“ The Kiwanis club  put a lot of hours into the festival. They have been so supportive. They deserve a lot more accolades than they get,” Cook said, praising the students who work all year to perform at the festival.
“It’s been really exciting to watch them come back each year and watch their talent grow,” she continued.

“I’ve also enjoyed getting to know the teachers. They’re dedicated and talented so I’ve enjoyed developing a rapport with them. It’s been nice to see it from all angles,” she continued, adding she is excited to turn the wheel over to new executive director Natasha Tompkins.
“I started  teaching classes for the festival in 2010. I grew up with the festival. It’s an important part of the community,” said Tompkins, who has enjoyed learning about all the different aspects to organizing the festival from Cook.

“I’ve been busy shadowing Elizabeth. It’s been a lot of work. She’s helped me to be organized.  I’ve learned you have to foresee the unseeable,” she said.

Tompkins also has students competing in this year’s festival
“ I’ve been teaching piano for competition for 13 years. I have a couple of students in the festival this year,” she said.
Cook said precise organization is essential.
“We want everything to be  run smoothly so it’s a great experience for everyone,” Cook said.

“ This year is the last festival at the Yates Theatre before they’re closed for renovations. So the next  organization will have to think about the creative possibilities,” she continued., noting the festival coincides with the schools’ Easter Break each year, so the festival next year will be March 12-24.

Music teacher Andrea  Roberts has a long history participating in the Festival.
“I’ve competed as a singer,concert band, jazz choir and jazz band,” said Roberts, who has two students participating in this festival.

“I have two students this year. Usually I have three or four and they always get good marks, placing first, second or third. One of them participates every year. She’s in seven categories this year. And it is the first year for the other student,” Roberts said, adding Sheldon Arvay will be accompanying her veteran student on guitar, which is unusual as most perform with a piano accompaniment.
“It’s important for them to get adjudicated and get feedback from someone other than me. It helps form the protege — mentor relationships,” Roberts continued.
“And it helps them get experience performing on a big stage,” she continued.

She said she leaves it up to her students to decide whether to compete or not as well as to choose which selections to perform.
“It’s their choice, though I’ll suggest which songs are best suited for their voice,” she added.

“ Song choice is key as is proper practice and preparation,” Roberts said, adding most of the adjudicators focus on the technical aspects of the performances rather than the equally important performance aspect of the performances.
“I’d like to see more focus on adjudicating the performance because seeing what a singer does with the song is equally as important as the technical aspects,” she observed.
She enjoys watching her students grow as performers and musicians.
“I like watching them evolve,” she said.

“This is it for local festivals where they can get properly adjudicated,” Roberts continued.

Buying a program book for $15  gets you admission to all sessions except the concerts.

The 87th Annual Lethbridge & District Kiwanis Music and Speech Arts Festival runs March 27 - April 8, 2017. More than 5, 000 participants competed in 2016, and we expect to see growth in this year's participation.  Two concerts, Musical Theatre Showcase on April 1 and Stars of the Festival on April 8, are held at the Yates Memorial Centre. Both concerts begin at 7:30pm. Tickets are $5 per person.
The public are invited to attend the Festival with a $3 admission.
For more information, please visit

A version of this story appears in the March 29, 2017 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times / Shopper
— By Richard Amery, L.A.beat Editor
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 29 March 2017 11:53 )  
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