Stars of the Festival showcases young stars of tomorrow

Award-winning vocalist Josh Gibson belted out a powerful version of There is a Balm of Gilead during the May 14 concert. Carl Hnatyshyn/Sarnia This Week

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Close to 300 people sat silently in the pews of Grace United Church on May 14 listening to some of Lambton-Kent’s most talented young musicians perform stirring renditions of everything from Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor, to Mozart’s solemn Un moto di gioia.

It was part of the annual Stars of the Festival concert, the culmination of the 90th annual Lambton County Music Festival.

The year’s iteration featured performances by award-winning youth from the competition as well as successful alumni from Canada’s longest running independent music festival.

With 23 performances by pianists, vocalists, violinists, clarinetists, trombonists and choirs, audience members had the chance to hear a range of musical entries to the festival while also helping festival organizers, past performers and volunteers celebrate a major milestone.

Nine past presidents of the festival were honoured and awards were also handed out between songs, while Coun. David Bouchy provided congratulations on behalf of the City of Sarnia.

Musicians of past festivals, including Jack Clift, Sharon Sedgeworth, Dorothy Miller, Constance Newland, Mary Lou Francis and David Nichols, contributed music to the evening, while young performers from across Sarnia-Lambton and Chatham-Kent showed off their musical skills.

Lambton County Music Festival musicians Justin Jackson, Alex Jackson, Meghan Taylor and festival alum Grace Hakala all performed at the May 14 Stars of the Festival concert at Grace United Church.Carl Hnatyshyn/Sarnia This Week

Allison Rowell, president of the festival from 1987 to 1988, said she was immensely impressed by the performances during the concert and happy the festival has lasted for as long as it has.

“I think tonight has been a wonderful success,” she said. “They’ve done such a wonderful job just staying active and having as much success as they’ve had, considering so many other organizations have gone to the wayside. Obviously there’s still a lot of interest in having a showcase to present the kind of talent we have here.

“What’s even more impressive is that this is all done by volunteers and supported by the community and certainly some very generous members of the community,” Rowell added. “Several families have been involved for so many years, which is so important because without support like that, you can’t keep putting on such a wonderful festival like this.”

Local piano prodigy Liam Best picked up the JoAnne Thornton Memorial Award during the Stars of the Festival concert at Grace United Church on May 14.Carl Hnatyshyn/Sarnia This Week

The festival has had an immeasurable influence on the musicians who have participated in it, said alumni Grace Hakala, a fourth year vocalist at Western University who performed a version of Giamco Puccini’s famous O mio bambino caro.

“The music festival has been a big part of my musical education and a big part of my heart,” she said. “I’ve been part of the musical festival since I was eight up until the year just before this one, so it’s definitely played a big part of why I decided to become a musician.”

Festival president Judy Inch said she was thrilled with both the turnout to the 90th anniversary bash as the community’s seemingly endless support.

“It was absolutely amazing,” she said. “We’re celebrating our 90th in style and we’re so pleased to have our outstanding promise winners perform alongside a lot of our festival alumni, who decided to come back and celebrate with us.

“It was a wonderful concert and we’re Heaven-blessed in Lambton County to have such talent,” Inch added. “We were hoping that everyone would enjoy themselves tonight and I think people certainly did.”

Past presidents of the Lambton County Music Festival joined current President Judy Inch to mark the festival’s 90th anniversary. From left to right: Dwayne McLinchey, John Kirby, Allison Rowell, David Nichols, Donna Taylor, Fred Fysh, Eleanor Vargo, Judy Inch and Helen Mutton (seated).Carl Hnatyshyn/Sarnia This Week

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