2007 Hannaford Festival of Brass - Postcard from Toronto


The still quite young Hannaford Festival of brass is helping to ensure the future of brass banding in Southern Ontario.

TorontoIt seems that when people talk the locations of brass bands, varies clusters tend to pop-up: in England there is Yorkshire; Wales, the Rhondda Valley; and for Canada, Southern Ontario is one of these clusters.  There are three main brass band events that Canadian Bands participate in: The Northwest Brass Band Festival in Seattle, Washington, USA; the Prairie Brass Band Festival which rotates between varies cities amongst the interior plains of Canada and the Hannaford Festival of Brass in Toronto, Ontario.

The Hannaford Festival is by far the biggest event and one of the most important as focuses on two key aspects unique to any other brass band festival in North America.  Not only is there an emphasis on community brass bands, but also on professional and youth brass bands.  Hannaford has a well-established youth system that is continuing to thrive and grow.

Although this was 4barsrest first trip to the Hannaford Festival after talking to many of the participants and organisers, it becomes quite apparent that this year's festival was bigger and better than ever.  In four years the festival has doubled from 7 bands to 14, the Youth Bands have tripled from 1 to 3, and the quality of the bands has improved greatly which can be attributed to bands listening to each other's performances.

The importance the Hannaford Street Silver Band is placing on education cannot be overstated.  Just the opportunity for the youth to perform in front of such a large and knowledgeable audience must be a thrill.  Whilst most of the players won't ever make it to play professionally in HSSB, the youth programme helps build appreciation for the brass band genre and at the least provide a future audience for the many fine Ontario bands.  Also, many of the youth have already moved on and continued to play in some of the other local bands (e.g. Weston Silver). 

The venue
St Lawrence Arts Centre

Too often it seems brass band organisers focus on how to lure only the top brass bands to their new contest, thus alienating, rather than promoting the better good of brass banding.  It is all fine to see the top bands, but they won't be there forever, if there is no youth development beneath them (the withdrawls in the UK at this year's areas are evidence of that).

At the same time the Hannaford Festival paid homage to the great tradition of brass band competitions that still exists today with the new "Hannaford Cup."  It appears part of the goal was to give bands a more concrete goal to attain in their rehearsals up to the Festival without being ultra-competitive.  I have to say I had my doubts at first, how can a band contest not be competitive?  But the organisers made it work.

Brass banding is still growing in North America and the Hannaford Festival of Brass provides an excellent template for how to run a large-scale festival (most other festivals only have 3-7 bands and run over the course of a day).  By focusing on the best youth, community and professional bands Hannaford are supporting brass bands at all levels, and hopefully the sponsors will take notice and continue to support this fantastic endeavor.

With any luck, the word will spread about this wonderful event and those bands from London (Ontario), Detroit and other cities that are only a few hours away will make the trip to either participate or at least be spectators for one of North America's top brass band events.

Next year's Hannaford Festival of Brass is scheduled for Friday, April 11th through Sunday, April 13th, 2008.

Pat Herak


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