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Memory Lane: A tale of two Ryans, first-place gibberish and other Kiwanis Music Festival memories

Sudbury.com asked for readers to share memories of the Kiwanis Music Festival
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The cover of the March 1955 issue of The Inco Triangle, featuring a young Mildred Istona, who won a scholarship for violin at that year's Kiwanis Festival. Istona went on to become editor of Chatelaine magazine.

A very talented young singer substituted the German words of a Schubert Lieder and sang two verses of gibberish one year at the Kiwanis Music Festival of Sudbury. Most of the audience didn't notice.

"One of my students decided to become creative in his own right, as he only could," remembers vocal teacher Diana Holloway, who has been a dedicated festival board member for many years.

"After extensive practising and lecturing on my part, he assured me he had learned the (German) lyrics to a Schubert Lieder. 

"Getting up to perform, he had poise, presence and a smile that could charm any audience. As Paul Ellis commenced the introduction, he fell into song. Whew, the first verse was complete. Now came the second. Out of his mouth came a language no one could recognize and on to the third verse with this mystified language.

"He did not miss a beat or expression and the audience was spellbound with enthusiasm for his voice. Only teachers and the adjudicator knew what had just happened. 

"To all of those singers and performers, the message is to keep singing with confidence and grace as the singer placed first in his category."

The Sudbury Kiwanis Music Festival is celebrating its 75th year this month. Sudbury.com asked readers to share memories of participating in the annual event which is more about the love of music than winning prizes.

Pianist Daniel Noël, who was involved in the festival in the mid-1970s, sings the praises of the Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association (ORMTA) and its contributions to the festival for many years. (The Sudbury festival is now organized by a volunteer board consisting mostly of music teachers and festival co-ordinator Katherine Smith.)

 "I 'grew up' as a pianist with the Kiwanis Music Festival, not only as a competitor, but as a behind-the-scenes worker. When one thinks of the festival, it is quite proper to think of the work of the Kiwanis Club. They are generous in their funding. Their members help in setting up locations, assuring greeters and ticker-takers are available, seeing to adjudicators' comforts and travel, jumping through hoops to see everything runs smoothly.

"However, many may not realize the huge contribution of the Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association (ORMTA). Not only did these independent teachers work tirelessly to prepare their students for the stage, many worked long hours in processing the paperwork. Why? Because where the Kiwanians had strength in funding and physical logistics, these teachers had the knowledge to sort the music information that filled the application forms.

"My piano teacher, Mona Allard, was the person who received all of the registration forms. From the moment registration opened to a couple of months after the closure, her living room, which also served as her teaching studio, looked like a small shoe store. Boxes and boxes, carefully lined up and preciously guarded from family and student traffic, served as the record holders for the applications.

"She recruited me to help her from 1974 to 1977. As a gawky teen obsessed with learning the piano, did I have a social life? No. So, I put my free time at her and the ORMTA's disposal. 

"Meanwhile, other ORMTA members were also working hard, co-ordinating with the Kiwanis members, taking care of the money received and other logistics so that when the first competitor climbed up on stage, with proud, beaming, likely nervous, parents sitting in the audience, the festival was off to another great start."

Don Miatello wrote, "I participated in the Kiwanis Festival a couple of times in the late 1950s. I played the accordion. I recall the judges were very patient and courteous. I was very nervous as I’d never played in public before and they made me feel as comfortable as possible. My teacher was Karl Pukara. He was a great teacher and I as a student, not so much. All in all, I have very fond memories of my time there."

Pukara was a legendary musician and teacher who taught accordion to hundreds of Sudbury young people before his death in 1998. The Karl Pukara Accordion Orchestra was established in 1957 and it won many awards in national and international competitions.

Karl Vainio also has memories of studying with Pukara and earning a perfect score at the festival.

"I have been playing the accordion for 62 years, and took lessons from Karl Pukara from 1959 for about seven years. I still practise an hour a day and enjoy it more than ever … the fingers still work.

"My older son happened to find the article on the Kiwanis Music Festival anniversary. Of course, he has heard the story from me many times about Karl Pukara’s senior orchestra coming in first at the festival with a perfect score … and I was a part of it."

Debbie Sferrazza moved away from Sudbury 30 years ago, but she keeps in touch with the city and friends on Facebook. She shared her memories of singing with her school choir at the festival,

"It has been so many years since I participated in Kiwanis with my school, Massey Public School in Lively. I am a grandmother now — but I do have a few memories which stand out. When I was in Grade 2, our class had to learn the song, ‘Robin in the Rain.’ I no longer recall if we won that year, but every year after that, whether I sang with my class, the girls' choir, or the school choir, we always placed first.

"Every day of the week at school at lunchtime, we practised for Kiwanis. We would be starving, but we had to practise first because the teachers felt with all us drinking milk and mostly eating peanut butter sandwiches of some sort, our voices would be muddled. Sing first, eat later!"

Heather Parker, who was the festival co-ordinator for 15 years, shared a story of "the two Ryans."

"I was in the position of co-ordinator and was hosting the final concert at St. Andrew's Place. Two young brothers were introducing themselves on stage before playing the duet they had been invited to perform. For privacy reasons, let’s pretend their names were ‘Jacob’ and ‘Ryan’. You can imagine the butterflies in their stomach. The youngest brother began by introducing himself, ‘My name is Ryan.’ The older brother looked at him in disbelief and said, ‘No it isn't! My name is Ryan, you are Jacob!’ It still brings a smile to my face because we all know how nerves can play tricks on us."

The Kiwanis Music Festival 2021 will be virtual. Music students will record their performances and upload them on YouTube. They will be adjudicated by judges during a Zoom conference from March 29 to 31 and from April 6 to 9. 

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. She is a member of the Kiwanis Music Festival of Sudbury board. Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program