When making the decision to join the Associated Manitoba Arts Festivals (AMAF) this past year, the Rainy River District Festival of the Performing Arts committee saw a number of benefits, including having local performers be eligible for provincial recommendation.
A total of 13 performers were selected to compete at the provincial festival in Brandon last month, with three of those bringing home scholarships.
Christian Wiedenhoeft, a Grade 6 student at St. Francis School, competed in the “Poetry and Prose Grades 4-6” division and took first place while ninth grader Mira Donaldson captured first place in the “Public Speaking Grades 7-9” category.
And while Anna Schwartz, 16, competed in both vocal and piano, she ended up earning top honours in the Manitoba Composition Competition.
Wiedenhoeft, who recited a Bible reading and poem entitled “This Morning is Our History Test” by Ken Nesbitt, said he couldn’t believe it when the adjudicator called his name for first place.
“When I went up there, I was just the happiest person alive,” he enthused.
“It was just amazing.”
Wiedenhoeft noted there were 20 competitors in the class—evenly split between boys and girls.
“It was really neat to see boys dressed up like me because [here] in town, it’s usually only me who is dressed up like that,” he remarked.
“I knew it was tough competition,” Wiedenhoeft added, saying it was a very diverse group of performers.
“It was so awesome to see all those other kids with the accents and stuff.”
Wiedenhoeft also admitted he was very nervous at first.
“But I realized, you have to do this because you were given an awesome opportunity and then my nervous just kind of went away,” he noted.
Donaldson, who performed both a prepared and impromptu speech, said she also was nervous to compete at the provincials.
“I had no idea what to expect going into it,” she remarked.
“I didn’t have any idea how much time I’d have to prepare my impromptu speech or if I was doing my prepared speech right,” she added, noting she had e-mailed the AMAF a few times but didn’t receive any clear answers.
But she stressed the experience was a lot of fun.
“It was really neat to go into all the different performance halls and see how talented everybody was in all the different areas,” she said.
Donaldson noted she was happy and surprised upon learning she had won first place.
“Going in, I didn’t think I would do bad, but I didn’t think I would get first place,” she reasoned.
“It was more to learn about what it was.”
There were six competitors in her age group at provincials while Donaldson was the only one in it at the local Festival this year.
Meanwhile, Schwartz said the entire weekend was a great experience and she was thrilled to bring home a scholarship.
“It was based on compositions I had sent in earlier,” she explained, noting she had sent in three pieces and earned the scholarship for one of those.
Schwartz also attended a music composition workshop where she said she learned a lot.
“There were some kids and adult, too, at the workshop,” she recalled.
“It was really interesting to talk to them about their thought process and how they went about composing their songs.”
She added earning the scholarship has motivated her to keep on composing.
“Writing is really fun,” Schwartz enthused. “It’s kind of that thing that not everyone does.
“There were a lot more people in the vocal competition and the piano competition than the composition by a lot, so it’s really something special that you can do.”
As a whole, Schwartz said the Rainy River District performers had a good showing and certainly were on par with the rest of Manitoba.
“I think we did really well, especially for the first time we’ve ever gone to provincials,” she remarked.
“I think that we did Fort Frances proud,” she stressed. “I don’t think any of us knew what kind of competition we were going to be facing, or how many people we’d be competing against or how old they would be.
“It was definitely a good experience and a lot of fun.”
Also competing at the provincials were Callahan Wiedenhoeft (vocal), Katelyn Bruyere (instrumental), Raymond Polz (instrumental), Mika Kooistra (piano), and Brianna Eldridge (piano).
The scholarship winners won’t receive their prize money until they send a thank-you letter to the donor, so at this time, they’re unaware of the amounts they earned.
But Wiedenhoeft said he probably would save the money while Donaldson noted she might use it for writing contests that require entry fees because she always is looking to improve her writing.
And the experience of competing at the provincial level seems to have motivated the local performers.
Wiedenhoeft didn’t know if he would participate in the Festival here next year, but now that he knows about the possibilities beyond the local event, he’s determined to continue on.
“It’s something to work towards. I’m definitely going to go in the Festival for many more years,” he noted.
Donaldson, meanwhile, would like to try to get to provincials for instrumental next year.
“I just want to thank the Festival committee,” said Schwartz. “It was really awesome for them to make the decision to join the Manitoba association.
“It was definitely a good call on their part.”