Ukuleles take centre stage at Norfolk Music Arts Fest

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Most people pick up the ukulele for the fun of it.

But for nine budding musicians from St. Cecilia’s School in Port Dover, the whimsy got serious with an adjudicated performance at the 34th annual Norfolk Musical Arts Festival.

The St. Cecilia’s Ukulele Club demonstrated their chops at Old Windham United Church in Simcoe, one of several venues for the week-long event.

There’s a reason serious educators want to keep music as part of the school curriculum. Along with playing the ukulele, Grade 7 student Lucius Czerlau also takes piano lessons. Czerlau says studying music has assisted with his academic development.

“I really like music,” he said. “It’s relaxing. It also helps with math.”

Fellow ukulele player Emily Haines is tickled that she shares a name with a more famous Emily Haines – the lead singer of the acclaimed Canadian rock bank Metric.

“My dad knew her in high school,” the younger Haines laughed. “I’ve taken keyboard and guitar lessons and I still play. There’s nine people in the Ukulele Club. We didn’t know each other before. It has brought us closer.”


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One might say musical chairs is an unexpected part of this year’s celebration.

Job action by assorted teachers unions has forced fest organizers to reschedule school band events and re-locate some competitions to different venues. Hall manager Cara Blackwood, a former teacher, says the situation has reduced the number of performers – who traditionally come from all over south-central Ontario – but that the situation is under control and won’t noticeably impact the competition.

“Unfortunately, the job action has reduced the number of entrants,” Blackwood said. “But I’m a former teacher. I get it.”

Blackwood said festivals such as this are a rite-of-passage for young people who want to take their music to the next level.

“Getting an adjudication is how you grow as a musician,” she said. “Adjudicators are different from your regular teacher and offer a different perspective.”

The adjudicators invited to Simcoe tend to be well known within their field across Ontario if not beyond. Adjudications occurred in a host of disciplines, including band and instruments, guitar, piano, French and English speech arts, strings, voice and choir.

Organizers dedicated this year’s fest to the memory of Dr. Peter Fowler Barrett. Barrett was vice chair of the festival at the time of his passing last August. Barrett was an avid supporter of the festival from the time he joined its board of directors in 2008.

“We will remember Peter for his admirable qualities,” the festival program says. “His kindness, his sense of humour, his generosity, his advocacy for the arts, his professionalism, and his optimism,

“But mostly we will remember Peter as a true gentleman and a friend.”

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