Looking through the program for the first music festival held in May 1945, a familiar name stands out on the list of entries for opening day.
Stewart Alsgard, retired naval officer and former Powell River mayor, was eight years old and participated in Pianoforte, Class 76 under 10 years.
“I was taught piano lessons twice a month by the Sisters of Charity who lived in a house on the top of Poplar Street,” said Alsgard. “I walked down there from Cranberry Lake where we lived.”
He still has his music dictation books, which he came across not long ago in the basement of his Tweedsmuir Avenue home. Finger dexterity is important in piano but Alsgard admitted that he did not always practice as much as he should have, much to the displeasure of his mother, Anne, who also played.
“She could read music well and would just sit down and play,” he said.
Alsgard stopped taking piano lessons in grade seven when teacher WC Cummings wanted to start a band program. He asked students if they were interested in learning to play an instrument and Alsgard said he wanted to play the cornet. He still has it to this day.
Powell River High School Band was formed with 50 students and “my life changed,” said Alsgard. He remembers playing in subsequent music festivals with the band at Dwight Hall and many other community events.
The band played a concert in the hall to raise money for uniforms. The group was so large that all its members barely fit on the stage so a special stand was constructed for conductor Cummings.
“I remember we played our first march, ‘The Thunderer’ by Sousa, in recognition that the thunderbird was our school mascot,” explained Alsgard.
The audience in the packed hall all stood up while applauding the performance.
“Mr. Cummings stepped back to acknowledge the applause, stepped into space and vanished from the conductor’s stand,” said Alsgard, adding with a laugh. “Aside from a broken baton, there were no other injuries.”
Once the money had been raised and the uniforms purchased, band members played a subsequent concert in their new attire.
When Canadian Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent came to Powell River, the band played in his honour and all members were introduced to him.
“I can remember the exact spot where I was standing in Dwight Hall when it was my turn,” said Alsgard.
During his second year of naval training at Royal Roads University in Victoria, he became part of a newly formed band. He remembers playing “The Last Post” as part of a rotation every 10 days.
“I was nervous my first time but managed to play flawlessly and received a round of applause from those inside the open barracks windows,” he said.
In the years since the very first festival, Alsgard has attended some of the Grand Concerts held as the final festival event and said he thinks back to his participation as a young boy.
Online registration is now open for the 75th Powell River Festival of Performing Arts. It closes at 4 pm on Tuesday, January 22. For more information or to register, go to events.solarislive.com/PRfestival.
The festival begins on Saturday, February 23, with piano in James Hall at Powell River Academy of Music. It concludes with the Grand Concert on Friday, March 8, at Evergreen Theatre in Powell River Recreation Complex. Select performances from all six disciplines: piano, band and instrumental, choral and vocal, strings, speech arts and dance, will be featured.