By Carol Dunn
Special to The News
Jennifer Farrell remembers competing in music festivals when she was younger, and she knows the nerves that sometimes come with these performances. “They’re incredibly courageous to perform,” she says. “I remember shaking in my boots at my own festival experiences.”
As the vocal adjudicator at this year’s New Glasgow Music Festival, Farrell says she keeps this in mind when marking the performances and making remarks to the participants.
“Hopefully I can be more compassionate in adjudicating,” she says. “I try to keep it light-hearted.”
When commenting on the performances Farrell is careful about the words she uses. “I don’t want to say something that can hurt or damage them and stay with them for a long time. I hope I send everybody away with something positive to think about. I give them lots of variety of feedback to take in and work with.”
While she says her opinion is an informed one, based on her years of performance and studying music, she also reminds the singers that her point of view is only one. “I hope they keep in mind that my perspective is just one. The work they do with their teachers day in and day out is more important.”
Farrell is a voice teacher at the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts in Halifax, and she studied music at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. She then earned her Master of Music degree and Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of British Columbia. For two years she was a voice instructor at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, before moving back to Halifax, where she grew up.
She has sung with many professional Canadian ensembles and has also performed as a soloist with several choirs, symphonies and orchestras in BC. Farrell, who is a soprano, has also performed with musica intima, an internationally acclaimed chamber choir. In Eastern Canada she has been a guest soloist with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Opera Nova Scotia, the St. Cecilia Series and Les Jeunesses Musicales du Canada.
As an adjudicator, she’s worked at music festivals in Halifax, Annapolis Royal, and Sackville, N.B., as well as Langley and Vernon in B.C. She’s also judged all age levels, from under eight to adult recreational. In fact, she really enjoyed working with an under eight group this week, when they held hands and danced the Penguin Ball together in order for the children to have a sense of the waltz rhythm, and to celebrate their achievements. “That was fun,” she says. “It was one of the highlights (of the festival) for me.”
Farrell is captivated with what she’s listened to this week in New Glasgow. “I’ve heard amazing singing. I’m always impressed with the level of talent that comes out of Pictou County.”
While she sometimes jokes that “it’s in the water” here, she credits the local music teachers. “The level of teaching is consistently high quality.”
And she says deciding who receives first, second and third place is challenging, often like “splitting hairs” because the students are so well prepared. Farrell says the singers she’s heard this week have the basics mastered and have healthy voices.
“When I get goose bumps listening to some of these young people sing, it’s a magical moment. There’s an exchange of energy, and it’s so wonderful and healing.”
Farrell has high praise for the organizers, volunteers and audiences of the New Glasgow Music Festival, whom she describes as “friendly, helpful and organized.”
While she’s always well taken care of as an adjudicator, she’s impressed with what she’s experienced in Pictou County. “It makes it easier as an adjudicator coming in, to have a huge support network. The community has been very kind. The teachers, pianists and volunteers have all been tremendous.”
She’s especially excited about the audience participation. “I think I’ve seen larger audience attendance. I’m impressed with how many community members come out to hear the performances.”
Farrell says this makes a difference for the performers. “It brings a different level of commitment to their performance,” she says, adding that there’s an exchange of energy between a performer and an audience. “Performance energy and magic can happen in that setting.”
“Here I feel like the community puts life on pause so kids can have the best festival experience. It’s really neat to feel.”
The family night portion of the festival, which took place on Thursday night, was something new for Farrell, as it’s something she’s never seen at other festivals. “It’s very unique. I think it’s quite a marvellous way to close the festival.”
She explains that she believes competition is important, because competing is part of real life, but adds that she thinks a music festival should also be a celebration of talent, music, community and support of the arts. “To finish with a concert like that – with that focus – is really a celebration first and foremost.”
She says music is so important in our lives, for many reasons. “It unites us in our human experience, our shared human emotions, and has really healing power.”
“One of the main reasons is I have a strong faith in its healing power and it’s a way to connect across borders, space, cultural differences…” she says. “It helps us to experience a sense of compassion and understanding for one another, and helps us express emotions we might not feel free to do in other ways. It’s an energy release and an energy boost all in one. It helps us reset, in a way, and maintain our sense of balance in our lives and in our bodies.”
During the festival, a little girl sang a test piece called ‘I’m Wishing,’ and Farrell says the message of the song relates what music can be.
“The song wishes for a world with more love, full of understanding, and a world where we all care for one another. The power of music is one of the ways that does connect us.”
She believes the power of music is something that can be carried with singers and musicians throughout their lives. “Dare I say they have a happier existence (with music in their lives).”