“Like sports, you’ve got to have games,” he said.
The longtime volunteer with the New Glasgow Music Festival explains that the festival provides musicians with those “game” opportunities, giving them a chance to perform for audiences – along with practising – in order to develop.
“I have this enormously strong belief in presenting opportunities for kids to grow and develop and be the best they can be, whether that’s in sports or music.”
Punke has been involved with the music festival for more than 20 years, and has been the chair of the awards committee for much of that time. He meets with the adjudicators to determine which competitors will receive the approximately 80 awards given out at the Stars of the Festival concert, along with other duties such as collecting any trophies from the previous year’s winners and having them engraved.
“I do have a passion for kids making music,” he said. “It’s what really keeps me involved.”
He said the music festival gives these performers a chance to prepare their music beyond just for their own recreation, and challenge them to grow through suggestions from the adjudication process.
Punke, who sings in choirs and describes himself as a low level piano player, said classical music provides a foundation for all musicians who want to pursue music in various genres.
Sandra Johnson, another volunteer, said the festival is one of the few places locally where musicians can perform this kind of music.
“I see the festival as an organization that fills a need in music that no other organization fills at this moment,” she said.
Johnson notes that many chances exist for guitar and fiddle players to perform in Pictou County and for youth to be involved with musicals or to sing pop music. “But for classical music – we’re it,” she said.
She said few opportunities are available for kids locally to sing operatic arias and to perform piano sonatas. “The festival is about making a place where they can do that.”
Johnson has been involved with the festival in a variety of ways since 1984, starting as a secretary to the adjudicators, helping to reformat the syllabus and now as the chair of the program committee. Her job is to schedule the entries – a time-consuming task that involves eliminating conflicts for competitors participating in more than one class.
She said the job has become easier since online registration was introduced several years ago.
“I have a passion for music and I want to be part of an organization that allows kids to discover an interest in music, and do it at an early age, and then refine their skill,” she said. “It’s a process of discovery, development and refinement.”
She points out that young people are also taught “very, very good life lessons” from participating in the festival, whether from winning a class or making mistakes. For those who have won their class, it’s a positive experience that “builds confidence and gives skills to get up in front of people. A good chunk of confidence comes from being prepared. I’ve seen kids get up who weren’t quite ready because they’re too busy with other things – and they learn that too. They could have done better if they practised extra – and they take that away from it – how much work and preparation there is to reach a standard of excellence.”
NGMF president Katie Jamieson said about 30 volunteers are involved with planning, fundraising and scheduling for the festival, along with greeting the students and their families, welcoming the adjudicators, preparing the venues and organizing the music.
“It’s all done by dedicated, hardworking and extremely committed volunteers,” she said.
“All of their individual acts of selfless kindness are essential to the success of The New Glasgow Music Festival and have a tremendous impact on every student involved.”
The main portion of 79th annual New Glasgow Music Festival – musical theatre classes were held March 30 to April 1 – begins on April 18 at venues around town and continues until April 27. The finale is the Stars of the Festival concert on April 30.