CPAF Stories

Weston Jacques
CPAF Director, Alumnus

When I was in grade 5, I was gifted my grandfather’s alto saxophone. I loved it. I started lessons and joined the band in jr. high. After playing the saxophone in grades 7 & 8, I knew I wanted another challenge. I love classical music, so I decided to switch from the saxophone to the clarinet. I picked it up right away, and in grade 10, I auditioned for the Mount Royal Conservatory Academy program. It was in the academy that I met new friends and started playing in a woodwind quintet.

Grade 10 was the first year I competed in the Calgary Performing Arts Festival (Kiwanis Festival at that time). I competed in solo classes as well as with my quintet. The festival was the first time I played in a high-pressure environment, and boy or boy was I nervous. I remember the first class, I needed to memorize the entire piece. To this day, I can still remember beginning the piece, and all of a sudden, I closed my eyes. I was so afraid that I would forget something if I opened my eyes, so I played the entire piece with my eyes shut.

The Calgary Performing Arts Festival (CPAF) is one of the only arts organizations dedicated to the growth of amateur musicians. Many of my friends from the festival have gone on to become incredible musicians. Music is my hobby, so for me, it was never a career, it was an escape from reality. In 2020, I joined the Board of the CPAF. It’s been a wild ride having to navigate cancellations due to the pandemic. However, I am so excited to see where we can take this organization now that we are nearing the end of a challenging year and a half

Emily Black
Alumna- Piano Performanc

I attended CPAF recitals and workshops for much of my intermediate to advanced piano years until I went off to university. My most memorable moment with CPAF was when I was performing in a recital, and my piece did not go as expected. I got nervous and completely forgot where I was in my piece! I very nervously turned to my adjudicator and asked if I could start again. They agreed, and I remember taking a huge deep breath, and going again. It wasn’t my best performance, but it was definitely my most memorable because of how kind that adjudicator was to let me start again, even though they didn’t have to. It was really uplifting to receive feedback and improvements even though my performance didn’t go as planned, and I definitely gained some mental fortitude for future performances!

Being able to perform under pressure and receive and implement feedback are invaluable skills in and outside of music. Musical performance also provides the unique challenge of developing and perfecting your technical skills while delivering an artistic and engaging performance. I remember I always found it challenging to balance memorization with feeling and emotion in my pieces, but having worked on that in CPAF I can now apply that skill in all kinds of other applications – like presenting my work in university, pitching a project to a team, and even writing essays! It’s hard to see when you’re in the moment, but CPAF endows you with skills that you can use for a long time, whether you go into music or not.

I think CPAF provides the opportunity to share your hard work with your peers, develop your performance skills, and get access to professional feedback that’s hard to get anywhere else. The skills and memories you gain from CPAF will stay with you for a long time and will serve you well in the future.

Serena Yeung
Alumna- Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance

I recently graduated with my Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance at the University of Calgary. After moving here from Hong Kong in 2014, I joined my first competition in Canada at CPAF. I remember I felt really nervous singing in front of the audience. I didn’t win or get any scholarships back then. After gaining some experience on stage during my music studies, I decided to take part in this competition again to challenge myself and get more feedback on my technique. I was then selected to perform my favourite aria, Laurie’s Song from The Tender Land, at the final concert at the Bella Concert Hall. After the final concert, I soon went to Edmonton and represented Calgary at the Alberta Provincial Music Festival. This is undoubtedly the most exciting competition I’ve been to. I was the youngest among all competitors, which makes me extra nervous. However, I got to learn from singers that are way older than I am. I also got many valuable feedbacks from adjudicators and make connections with singers from different cities. After taking part in competitions for many years, I learnt that competition isn’t about winning or losing, but it’s all about thriving and exploring. That’s how I keep my flame alive after many years of failure (or losing, you might say!) I would encourage young musicians to step outside their comfort zone. When you look back, you’ll never regret all the chances you’ve taken.

Heidi Duncun
Alumna- Master of Music in Opera Performance

Heidi has participated in the Calgary Performing Arts Festival for 10 years, beginning at the age of nine. She considers the CPA Festival to have been a fundamental part of her development as a young artist.

“Over the years, I had the honour of representing the CPA Festival at the Alberta Provincial Music Festival for music theatre and classical voice as well. I not only gained performance experience at a young age, but learned to be disciplined in my preparation, collaborate with other musicians and singers, take constructive criticism and feedback, and reflect on my own performances.

My most defining performances and fondest memories in the festival were in the Music Theatre classes. I lived for the challenge of embodying a character so different from myself. Although I ultimately decided to continue to develop my voice classically, I always considered the CPAF music theatre classes the ones I benefited from the most. I gained considerable stage experience at a young age, and the stage was a place where I became very comfortable. The CPA Festival is where I learned to welcome success and failure and where my artistry began to blossom. When I started university, it became apparent how the skills I developed from my annual performances prepared me for that next step. Through the CPA Festival, I was able to get to know myself as an artist, define who I am and find my individuality and confidence in my future musical endeavours. One of the most notable benefits of the festival was getting to know the adjudicators. It was a huge privilege to receive feedback from so many distinguished performers and educators. CPAF served as a huge compass for me as I began to consider and plan for post-secondary education. I want to express my enormous gratitude to the patrons, supporters and volunteers of the festival who made these opportunities possible. Today, I hold a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from the University of Toronto, where I’m entering the second year of my Master’s degree in Opera Performance. I credit so much of my early development as a performer to my involvement in the CPA Festival. I am so grateful to all those who encouraged me throughout those years. My time at the CPA Festival holds a special place in my heart and some of my favourite memories. I am thankful to have had the privilege of celebrating music throughout my childhood and looking back on how far I have come as an emerging artist. “

Headshot by Gabrielle Johnson

Nature shot by Taylor Brewis

Production shot- Heidi Duncan (Madame Herz), U of T Opera’s production of Mozart’s Der Schauspieldirektor. Photo by Banana Camera.

Brianna Newman
Participant- Voice, Musical Theatre

Throughout the years, we have witnessed the growth (literally too!) of many amateur artists. Brianna is one of them who joined the festival since she was younger, and look at her now! Here is what Michelle, Brianna’s mother, has to say:

“I went to the Kiwanis festival when I was a teen and always loved the experience. As such, I encouraged my daughter, who loves musical theatre and trains in voice to enter. CPAF has helped encourage her love for performance. Being able to learn not only from adjudicators but also from watching her peers is invaluable. She was fortunate to be able to perform one year at a CPAF gala event as well. I would encourage parents to support the festival and enter their kids! It is a wonderful and encouraging experience.”

Sharon Wong
Parent of 3, Pianist

As a pianist and a mother of 3, Sharon has always been involved in her children’s musical journeys.

Sharon believes that the CPAF is a starting point towards bigger performance stages and competitions as amateur musicians receive world-class adjudication. The festival provides an opportunity for young amateur musicians to absorb and reflect on the comments. From there, they can see their performance from a different perspective, allowing them to turn practical critiques and comments into improvement. As they gain more public performance experience, musicians are able to gain confidence, rise from failure and become stronger performers. Sharon also mentioned that by participating in the festival, young musicians could work towards a short-term goal as they prepare. It also trains them to develop self-discipline and set long-term goals for personal development.

Throughout the years, adjudicators at the CPAF have been encouraging and strategically motivating talents like Sharon’s son, Joshua. Joshua participated in numerous festivals at a young age and was a Rose Bowl winner in 2019. Along with the encouragement of Sharon, teachers and adjudicators, Joshua is now furthering his music studies at McGill University.

When Joshua is competing, Sharon is always there to support him mentally and physically. Here is a photo of Sharon being Joshua’s page-turner on stage. How much love and support do you see from this musical journey?

Joshua Wong
Rose Bowl Winner 2019

Joshua Wong has been playing the piano for 12 years, recently completed the first year of his undergraduate degree in piano performance at McGill’s Schulich School of Music, currently studying under the tutelage of Dr. Ilya Poletaev. Under the encouragement of his piano teacher, Joshua first participated in the CPAF was when he was 7-year-old. He decided to take it as a chance to perform in front of an audience and receive feedback from adjudicators. Since then, he has been involved in the festival for 9 times throughout 2011-2019.

Joshua felt slightly nervous about his first couple of experiences at the festival because he had to perform live for an adjudicator and his peers. After gaining more experience on stage, he began to feel more comfortable and started feeling enjoyment through performing and communicating with audiences with his music. Joshua’s last performance in the CPAF at the Bella Concert Hall was memorable because he was able to perform Rachmaninoff’s First Piano Concerto with his former teacher Marilyn Engle.

During his 9 years of competing at the festival, Joshua was awarded numerous medals and scholarships. He also represented Alberta at the National Music Festival in 2018. Joshua thinks his performances throughout the 9 years at the festival truly allowed him to improve himself as a musician and performer. In 2019, he was awarded the prestigious Rose Bowl Award.

Joshua thinks the most valuable lesson he learned from his CPAF experience was to not stress about the result of the competition but rather perform and enjoy sharing music. He strongly recommends the festival to all young musicians because of the chance to perform and better ourselves as musicians. Joshua feels that the festival allowed him to listen and learn from other experts, prepare for competitions, and give him valuable and memorable advice from adjudicators. He is genuinely grateful for CPAF for helping him become the pianist he is today.