Strathmore Performing Arts Festival a go in 2021

·3 min read

Local young musicians have a chance to show their talents and get a chance to move to provincial competitions at the 2021 Strathmore Performing Arts Festival (SPAF).

The inaugural festival, featuring solo and group performances, was held in 2019, with over 600 performers from 210 entries competing. Unfortunately, the 2020 festival was cancelled due to COVID-19. “We were on the brink of the festival starting within days, but then the country went into lockdown,” said Carolyn Steeves, SPAF president.

But organizers are making sure the 2021 festival, being held March 19 to 27, will happen regardless of remaining uncertainties due to the ongoing pandemic. Festival entries open on Jan. 1, and the deadline for entries is Feb. 1.

Both in-person and virtual options for the festival are being planned, and a decision will be made by the start of March as to which one will be selected, explained Steeves.

A detailed account of each option is provided on the group’s website (, with the in-person option following all Alberta Health Services (AHS) guidelines and requiring detailed protocols to keep all participants safe. The in-person festival would be held at the Strathmore United Church.

While the 2019 festival welcomed an audience, Steeves is unsure whether or how many people could attend live performances at this time, as determined by AHS. “We will have no control over that,” she said.

If the festival is held virtually, then participants must submit a video of their performance by March 8. Steeves hopes that many students gaining experience recording themselves for Christmas performances will make capturing their performances easier.

“That might have broken the ice a bit, for some students who might have otherwise been unsure of recording for a festival,” she said.

The competition classes include musical theatre, voice, concert band, jazz band, percussion ensemble, instrumental, choir, classroom music and piano. Some of the categories, including bands, choirs and classroom music, are being limited this year to just Strathmore residents. That is a departure from the 2019 festival, when some of the bands came from outside Strathmore.

For the most part, SPAF participants have been students taking lessons in piano, voice and theatre, or those part of school band. But a change to the festival could make competing open to a wide array of students. SPAF is a member of the Alberta Music Festival Association (AMFA) which revamped their festival syllabus this year to include a contemporary music stream, explained Steeves.

“They’re trying to encourage other students to participate in the festival that don’t necessarily take private lessons.”

In that stream, competitors can sing contemporary songs, accompanied by a karaoke or pre-recorded track, and use a microphone.

“It will be almost like a ‘Strathmore Idol,’” she said.

The other exciting development is that festival adjudicators will be nominating two participants to the AMFA provincial festival, to be held virtually in May or June.

“It gives them twice as much of a chance to go to provincials,” explained Steeves.

The festival already has funding from some of last year’s sponsors, as the vast majority did not request funds be returned after the event was cancelled.

“Everyone was very supportive of the shutdown,” she said. Similarly, many participants paid last year and did not request refunds and so do not have to pay again this year.

Despite the changes and uncertainty due to the pandemic, Steeves is hopeful for the 2021 festival.

“We’re not sure what will happen,” she said, “but we’re hoping a lot of students enter.”

Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times