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Travel plans begin to take form for totem poles journey

Slovenia winner of first nations carving
Travel plans begin to take form for totem poles journey

When City of Powell River Mayor Dave Formosa came up with the idea to have a first nations’ totem pole as the top prize for International Choral Kathaumixw, it started a different plan from the usual trophy and cheque presented to the winners.

Paul Cummings, new Kathaumixw artistic director, had stepped into the role following founder Don James’s retirement.

“The first thing I did when everything was in place and we knew where all the choirs were coming from,” Cummings said, “was to determine how much it would cost to ship the totem pole to each location.”

After Saturday night’s announcement that the Choir of the World at Kathaumixw was St. Stanislav Youth Choir from Ljubljana, Slovenia, Cummings had the number he needed.

“I was ecstatic that the totem pole went to such an outstanding choir, among wonderful choirs,” Cummings said. “It’s going to part of the world that will really appreciate the craftsmanship and culture. They’ll be beside themselves in Slovenia.”

Choir director Damijan Močnik told the Peak they did not have high expectations about winning any awards because of the excellent choirs attending the festival. “We decided that we would try not only to compete but to enjoy our performing even more. We became much more relaxed.”

He added when the announcement came, choir members were  in shock for a moment, leapt to their feet and started to scream with joy.

Cummings explained that the St. Stanislav Youth Choir hosts a big musical production each year at the end of May with about 300 singers participating. He anticipates the totem pole will be part of the event in the spring of 2015 and that there would be a “tremendous build up before it arrives.”

As Munich is the nearest major airport to Slovenia, Cummings said it would be great to arrange a concert there with the St. Stanislav choir and then proceed by train or a short flight to Ljubljana, a city the size of Victoria. “A little corner of the Alps with beautiful lakes, mountains and beautiful architecture” is how Cummings describes Slovenia, a country of two million people. It shares its borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia and a small area along the Adriatic Sea.

Accompanying the totem pole along with Cummings will be carver Craig Galligos and Formosa, along with other members of what is being called a Powell River trade mission.

“It was great to see the excitement on the winning choir members’ faces and that of their conductor when they were awarded the grand prize,” said Formosa. “It was a proud moment for me to see this idea I had actually come to fruition. It’s absolutely cool that it’s the choir from Slovenia. Talk about the other side of the world and a test for our first Kathaumixw totem pole to end up.”

Formosa is looking forward to seeing the delivery of the totem pole “for Powell River, Sliammon, Craig and more so Kathaumixw.”

He added that by having the totem pole sitting in its final resting place of prominence in Slovenia it will be a message for all other choirs which wish to compete for such a prize to acknowledge excellence.

“They will know that the place to do this and the place that recognizes and awards such artistic perfection is at Kathaumixw,” Formosa said, “within the traditional territory of Sliammon First Nation in our beautiful oceanside city of Powell River.”

Cummings said the choir will “make a very big deal” of the totem pole’s arrival. The more exposure Kathaumixw can generate from the totem pole, the better it will be for the festival’s future as it competes with many others around the world. “When Kathaumixw started 30 years ago, there were very few festivals like ours,” said Cummings. “Now you need something to really stand out. The totem pole ensures we stand out.”

A commitment has been made to have a totem pole awarded to the top choir at Kathaumixw again in 2016 and 2018.