Forty years of music

The Sunshine Coast Festival of the Performing Arts (SCFPA) has come a long way from its early days in 1973, when it was modeled after the annual Kiwanis Festival in Vancouver.

This Tuesday, April 2, the SCFPA will celebrate its 40th anniversary, making it the longest running festival on the Coast. As well as its reputation for great concerts, the festival is also an opportunity for mostly youthful musicians to perform in front of an audience and to be impartially evaluated by a professional adjudicator who comes from off the Coast.

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This year's program opens with piano at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt April 2 to 4 with the popular piano encore concert on April 7 at 2 p.m.

There wasn't always a chance to use a good piano for the festival, said Barbara Cattanach, who has been involved since its inception 40 years ago.

The festival started small and evaluated music, dance and speech arts. The latter was dropped and dance adjudication disappeared for a while, but returned to the festival in 2007.

"We held the festival anywhere we could find a piano," she recalled.

Sometimes they worked in school lunchrooms with mediocre instruments and poor acoustics. Cattanach's daughter Heather was nine years old when she performed at the first festival, and that's when mother became involved working behind the scenes. She promoted it and then became board chair when Heather's teacher, Elizabeth Kennett, one of the association's first presidents, stepped down.

Heather went on to study music at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto and now teaches music in Scotland, not unlike many other junior players who have continued with music all their lives. Barbara Cattanach stayed with the festival for 20 years, finally retiring when her eldest granddaughter was ready to perform at the Festival.

"It was time to sit back and watch from now on," she laughed.

Aletta Gilker and Mary Brooke were founding members, along with Cattanach, teacher George Cooper and Kennett, among others. The festival's initial two-day sessions with only 30 entrants have increased greatly. It now takes place over three weeks and more than 100 awards and trophies were given out to performers in 2012.

After the piano recitals, the festival continues with bowed strings at St. Hilda's Church in Sechelt, on April 8 and 9, progressing to percussion, woodwinds and brass on April 10 and 11.

As a non-profit society with charitable status, the SCFPA regards its awards as vitally important to encourage ongoing development of the performers. Many of the honours and financial assistance for education are thanks to the generous support of community donors. Each year exceptional performers are selected to go to the provincial festival, Performing Arts BC, May 26 to 30 in Chilliwack.

Volunteers are always needed. If you can help, contact the volunteer co-ordinator, Dorothy Fraser, by phoning 604-885-7637 or emailing

Admission to Festival 2013 events is by donation and audience is encouraged. Detailed information about where and when events take place is available on the SCFPA website:

In addition to the piano encore concert on April 7 at the Arts Centre, there will also be a festival highlights concert at 2 p.m. on April 28 at Raven's Cry Theatre in Sechelt. These two concerts fill up quickly, so be there early to get your seat.

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