Playing Flight of the Bumblebee at a ridiculous 300 beats per minute in the comfort of your living room is one thing, but doing it before a live audience is a different story; just ask any tipsy open-mic’er who has impulsively wandered onstage to belt out Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby McGee and collided with the difficult and unexpected key change.
The art of live performance, like sight-reading or improvising, is a skill only mastered through steady practice.
Now in its 87th year, the Greater Victoria Performing Arts Festival provides young artists with an opportunity to experience the volatility of live performance and to be critiqued by professionals. There will be 15 disciplines represented, from fiddle to ethnic dance, and more than 5,000 artists of all ages will showcase their talents before experts who will give honest feedback about the performances.
“Learning how you can grow and how you can get better, that’s really important,” says Lana Denoni, GVPAF board member. “We try to get really good adjudicators that have expertise in each field. It’s all about learning.”
Receiving honest critique is a tough step on the road to professionalism. For many, the GVPAF will be the first time performers receive professional feedback about what they are doing right, and what elements they need to work on. This can be tough for young artists who aren’t used to criticism. They’ll need to bring their thickest skin and leave their egos at the door.
Though many of the venues have remained the same, there have been changes in the adjudication.
“They used to (rank) each person first, second, third, but they don’t do that now,” says Denoni. “Now, they give each individual person adjudication on how they’ve performed. I think that helps people grow, rather than leaving them thinking, ‘Oh, I did really bad.’”
Some musicians in the festival are already at a near-professional level. Ceilidh Briscoe, 19, has been playing violin for 14 years and is currently working on Paganini’s notoriously difficult Caprice No. 24. She’s no stranger to critics, and knows the difficulties endemic to live performance are all mental.
“You’re working with your mind,” says Briscoe after class at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. “You get more experienced with it. When I started I was really young. I always think, ‘I‘m going to have fun with this’ as opposed to ‘I’m being judged.’”
The festival’s top singers and instrumentalists will be selected by judges to perform at the Roberto and Mary Wood Scholarship Concert on May 10. Each musician will have 20 minutes to dazzle a three-member panel, and one performer will receive a sizeable scholarship. To add a bit more pressure, Victoria dignitaries including Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon will be in attendance.
This year’s festival began April 1, and ends with the dance honours concert on May 12.
Visit gvpaf.org for a full schedule.
The GVPAF is a non-profit society incorporated in 1927. It is supported by approximately 300 volunteers.