Music Alive History

The following written submission marks the beginning of our story.  I want to thank Dennis Carpenter, Head Adjudicator, for his help and support in reaching-out to connect with music educators, encouraging them to describe and share the history of this wonderful and valuable music festival in York Region.  I am pleased to add a part two contribution, composed by Christine Shaw, with the help of Edel Reid, Administrative Assistant, Music Alive Festival, 2020.  We plan to add more sections in the near future. 
- John Lettieri, Program Manager of Music Alive Festival of York Region.

Part 1 - The Beginning Years, written by David Geene, November 2018

Choirs Alive becomes Music Alive

In the 1990s, the York Region Board of Education as it was known then had a number of music consultants in the curriculum department. One of them was Bob Richardson, who was a choir director and educator, and he conceived of an idea to bring elementary school choirs together for an innovative learning opportunity. Three to four choirs would prepare one of their own selections and work on a piece that all the groups would sing together. On the day of the session, a choir expert would be brought in to provide feedback on each choir’s individual performance and then would work with the whole assembled group on the mass choir piece. The concept was called Choirs Alive and it was continued by another music consultant, Jane Cutler. In the mid-90s Jane expanded the idea to about 20 choirs which would participate in about 5 sessions held at various YRBE schools. Jane passed Choirs Alive on to David Geene in 1997 and he continued to expand the idea, bringing in excellent choir clinicians and really making an impact on the quality of choral music in elementary schools.

Preceding the year 2000, the newly-named York Region District School Board began making plans to mark the new millennium through a variety of means and modes. Bill Hogarth and Bill Crothers, director and board chair respectively, brought together a number of key arts and organizational people to look at ways to access federal government millennium funds. An arms length organization (Arts Link?) was formed and funding applications were completed. The Ontario Trillium Foundation was also involved. Jane Cutler, who was now a curriculum coordinator, asked David Geene to explore and lead the transition from Choirs Alive to a bigger concept to be called Music Alive. And the funding was approved to make it happen.

Music Alive would expand to include both Public and Catholic school boards in York Region, and any private schools or community ensembles, would continue with choral ensembles but expand to include classroom choirs, jazz choirs, and other vocal ensembles, instrumental ensembles were added  (concert bands, jazz bands, string orchestras, small ensembles, and guitar ensembles), and would require the use of several larger venues and the services of many more qualified clinicians.

In the spring of 2000, the first Music Alive festival took place. A committee of music educators and board support personnel from both YRDSB and YCDSB, funding from the federal government, the cooperation of many, many people and organizations, helped make it all happen. School administrators were invited to be MCs at each session, politicians were invited to provide greetings, official opening and closing ceremonies were planned to highlight the work of music students in schools. Newmarket Theatre, Vaughan City Playhouse, Apple Creek SDA Church, several schools and other venues hosted a series session over three weeks. After a very successful inaugural year, David Geene continued to lead Music Alive, along with the financial and practical support of both school boards. Participation fees, adjudication frameworks, format adjustments (choirs continued with the Choirs Alive format for several years, but other ensembles followed a more traditional festival format), certificates, a series of excellent clinicians, the involvement of music industry partners like Cosmo Music, and the ongoing hardwork of the Music Alive committee saw the continued expansion of Music Alive. When David Geene left the consultant role, “retired” music educator Wayne Hill agreed to take over, and that is another story!

Part 2 - Christine Shaw, 2000 - 2015, by Christine Shaw, Post Script by Edel Reid

Early Days

In 2000, I had just retired from the TDSB music department in Scarborough, when David Geene asked me to work with him on the Music Alive Festival of York Region.  I had known David from OMEA.  At that time, the Music Alive office was in the YRDSB head office.  David Geene was the festival Director, and I was the Office Administrator.  This was a great experience for me and really got me hooked!

In 2001, David Geene returned to working in a school, and Wayne Hill, retired music teacher from the YRDSB, took over as Director of the festival.  The Music Alive office was moved into Wayne’s basement office in Stouffville, and with Wayne’s contacts, Music Alive grew even larger.


Embracing role of Site Manager

During this year, I visited some of the festival sites where the sessions were being held and saw how the programmes were run; a couple of times I was asked to perform the role of Master of Ceremonies, or Site Manager at the festival sessions.  I found that I really enjoyed the interaction with the students and music teachers and embraced with role with enthusiasm.  

Each year after that, I travelled to all the sites during the festival, helping with setup, and making sure the sessions ran on time. I became known as the face of Music Alive. Everyone got to know me and kidded me about by Scottish accent.

During this time, I continued in my Office Administrator role and worked in the office, dealing with teachers and doing admin work.

Wayne continued in his role as Director:  working behind the scenes, preparing the sessions, working on the programme, contacting adjudicators, and liaising with me to ensure a successful festival.


Growth of the Festival

Word had spread about the Music Alive festival, and registrations and participation continued to grow.  Requests came from schools all over York Region and some from further afield.  This meant that more venue time was needed and the festival would run longer.

Wayne ran an instrumental music programme with elementary school children from the YCDSB during lunchtime and after school. This was called Music Star and this added another dimension to Music Alive since many performers from Music Star participated in the Music Alive Festival.  Wayne also taught at a Christian school in a similar way and those students also performed at Music Alive.

With the growth of the festival, Adjudicators and site managers were now travelling all over York Region to work with in the festival sessions.

The above is the conclusion of Christine Shaw’s remarks with respect to her role in the Music Alive Festival – but there’s more!


Post-script: Retirement and the “Christine Shaw Award”

Christine Shaw retired from her Music Alive role in 2015. Her incredible contributions to the festival and its growth were recognized at a Closing Festival Gala in May 2015, held at the Cosmopolitan Hall, Cosmo Music, in Richmond Hill.

There were many wonderful performances that evening. The highlight of the evening were the tributes to Christine from the students and the announcement of a new Music Alive festival category:  the “Christine Shaw Scholarship Award”.   This award would become the only competitive award in the festival; it would recognize outstanding young school musicians in York Region and have a monetary scholarship attached to it.  The Christine Shaw Scholarship Award is now in its fourth year and has produced some incredible performances.  Christine herself has continued to attend the session to hand out the Award to the winners and has remained an incredible enthusiastic supporter and resource for the festival.

YCDSB Theatre

YCDSB Theatre

YCDSB Theatre

Newmarket Theatre

Cosmopolitan Hall

Cosmopolitan Music Hall

Unionville Montessori Private School

Unionville Montessori Private School