St. John’s serenades the masses

St. John’s college second annual ensemble competition to take place March 22

The second annual St. John’s College Ensemble Competition is underway for the Desautels faculty of music, an event that will see students from all disciplines within the faculty come together to perform and compete against their peers on March 22 at St. John’s College Chapel.

Laura Loewen, associate dean of undergraduate programs at the faculty of music and one of the organizers behind the competition, said students are already part of different ensembles within the faculty of music. The competition aims to celebrate that.

Preliminary rounds were held on March 2, with the competition divided into three categories that contestants could compete in: instrumental, singer with instrumental and vocal ensemble.

Three faculty members chose one winner from each category to play in the final round taking place on March 22 for the final prize of $300, to be split evenly amongst the members of the winning group. 

This year, the preliminary round for the ensemble competition was a closed event, but Loewen expressed interest in having it open in the future. After having another competition be an open event, Loewen said this format takes some pressure off of competitors and encourages them to enjoy the experience more. 

“I think for next year we’re going to organize that with the prelims, so the whole thing is more of a celebration, not just the finals.”

The competition, which is a counterpart to the annual St. John’s art competition, now in its 12th run, started when retired Desautels faculty member, Kurt Markstrom, had the idea to add a musical aspect to the St John’s college art competition.

As a fellow of St. John’s, Loewen said it was important for Markstrom to find a way to unite his two spheres of involvement, St. Johns and Desautels, which influenced the creation of the ensemble competition. 

Henry Kelsey, pianist from the Dafoe Piano Quartet, one of the winning teams from the preliminary round, said the quartet formed their group just this year but were glad to hear of the opportunity to perform for the competition. 

Kelsey said the group will be performing two songs in contrasting styles. 

“For us, a lot of the motivation [for our song choice] was not only the beauty of the music, but showcasing all of the instruments and our capabilities as an ensemble.” 

The two other groups going to the final are Four/Four and The Matriarchy. 

When asked what she and the other judges were looking for from contestants in the preliminary round, Loewen said, “for me, it’s always about communication and telling stories […] and the beauty of making music with other people, and all of these groups had just extraordinary ensembles.” 

For the final round of the competition, audience members will be deciding who takes home the crown. Loewen said she hopes the crowd is “nice and rowdy and cheering for all the groups.” 

Winners of the art competition will also be announced following the music portion that afternoon.

Having an audience is something Kelsey said he is looking forward to. 

“A panel is lovely, but it feels like a very personal and intimate experience in the quartet when we’re playing for a small number of people,” he said. 

“And when you open that up, it encourages us to make more bold decisions and to embrace the passionate moments.”

“It was really wonderful last [time],” said Loewen, explaining that previously, large numbers of parents, music students and art students attended the event due to the conjoined art competition. A love for art and supporting artists was present. 

“Being a university student is super stressful. Being a music student is super stressful […] and it’s easy to get caught up in the work that we have to do every day,” said Loewen. 

“This particular competition, it seems like people can remember why they went into this and how much they love making music with each other, and there’s really nothing better than that.”

Attendees are welcome to come and watch the final round of the competition March 22 in St. John’s College Chapel, which will take place from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., with a reception at the Daily Bread Café following from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.