For three days, dozens of middle and high school students packed themselves into the Humber Lakeshore auditorium competing in the seventh annual Next Generation Jazz Festival.
This year’s festival was held from Feb. 19-21 and featured 33 bands from schools across the GTA, all vying for the top prize, an invitation to the MusicFest nationals, which will be held in Vancouver.
The festival is organized by Humber faculty Alex Dean and festival regional coordinator Marsha Duggan, and features other Humber music faculty as judges. Dean says festivals like this one build up a strong music community nationwide.
“It builds up music all across the country for everyone,” he said. “I think it has a lot to do with keeping the music departments pretty strong in high schools because if you don’t have good feeder schools then you don’t have good colleges.”
The bands were separated into two categories, either big band or combo, and after each performance each band was either given an award of gold, silver or bronze. Each group was also given a 30-minute workshop with one of the judges, said Dean.
“They have to go up and work with them because you want them to sound better by the time they get to the nationals. And if they don’t sound good you want to be able to make a change so if they come back next year they’re going to sound better,” he said.
For one hour each day the participants also got to watch a live performance from two of Humber College’s jazz ensembles, as well as the Jazz FM91 Youth Big Band. Duggan said the purpose of these performances was to inspire the young musicians.
“It gives them an opportunity to hear musicians that are playing at a higher level than them so that they have something they can aspire to,” she said.
Mike Downes, a music professor at Humber, was one of four judges at this year’s Next Generation Music Festival. He said music festivals such as this one are more important than ever with the constant threat of funding being cut for high school music programs across the country.
“I think music education is incredibly important and I think these festivals foster a learning environment for these people. I think it is educationally an amazing opportunity for them,” Downes said.
The MusicFest nationals will be held May 12 to 17 in Vancouver. All bands who were awarded a gold at the Next Generation Music Festival were invited to attend.