Powell River choral event goes digital in 2020

19th biennial International Choral Kathaumixw would have begun next week

Organizing committee members have faced many challenges since International Choral Kathaumixw held its inaugural event in 1984.

Thinking back to that first festival, founder Don James remembers the stress involved in getting the Nyonza Singers from Uganda to Powell River.

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“The choir landed at Heathrow Airport in London and did not have visas to Canada,” said James. “Diplomatic telephone calls between embassies were furiously undertaken and the choir made it as far as Vancouver.”

Time was running out before the Gala Opening Concert so everyone in Powell River with a private plane was seconded and a squadron headed down to pick up the singers.

“The Ugandans walked off the plane, were rushed to Evergreen Theatre and immediately fell asleep in their seats,” said James. “When it came time for them to perform, they got up on stage and woke up everyone in the audience.”

After all the stress of getting them here, the choir members were the hit of the first-ever Kathaumixw.

James said there have been lots of interesting challenges over the years, including the first Israeli choir which came accompanied by Mossad security members with guns.

“After the first couple concerts, they realized what a safe place Powell River was and they put their guns away,” he added. “But that first one with the Ugandan choir topped them all.”

Nothing in the past 36 years prepared James for COVID-19 and its devastating impact around the world.

“It shows just how fragile our globe is and what can happen in such a big way,” he said. “We are learning to live with it and through it, not knowing the long-term effects.”

At an organizing meeting in March, when everyone was unsure about the pandemic’s impact, artistic director Walter Martella told those gathered around the table that “no matter what happens, I want to have something that will mark Kathaumixw 2020.”

The organizing committee has been working on Digital Kathaumixw 2020, beginning Saturday, June 27. With assistance from Peter Harvey and his Sea Panda Productions, there will be posts on the festival’s Facebook page every day until the closing weekend.

“We are trying to follow the program as much as we can with archived footage of performances and activities from past festivals,” said Martella.

This week planning for opening night would be the focus with local choirs holding extra rehearsals and working towards the excitement of the opening.

“The entire community, including our choirs, would be ready to welcome visiting choirs to Powell River,” added Martella.

In a letter to the choirs he conducts, Martella said it was heartbreaking not to be hosting what would have been a great festival.

“We understand that when it comes to COVID, we all have to be part of the solution; however, people will get back to singing and enjoying live music again,” he added.

Tom Koleszar, festival committee chairman, said he “deeply regrets” the 19th Kathaumixw planned for June 30 to July 4 this year.

“I know I will greatly miss the wonderful live performances and meeting all the new choirs from around the world but we have to deal with what comes,” he added. “While we can’t meet in person, music still has a great power to transcend boundaries of all kinds and celebrate the diversity of cultures around the world, and though we are gathering remotely this year, we can still share a common love of music and the inspirations it gives us.”

He said the festival committee will be working to welcome the world back to Powell River next year for another unforgettable week of live choral performances, meeting new friends, and the making of great memories.

To follow along with Digital Kathaumixw 2020, go to facebook.com/Kathaumixw.

Copyright © Powell River Peak


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