Culture trumps self at PRISMA music festival

Seventy-nine students have now returned home to talk about their experience in a small town where culture trumps selfishness


Mike RobinsonIn a week punctuated by arguments over the efficacy of internationalism, exiting rather than remaining, and a sea-change in the financial markets, it’s remarkable to have been a part of something extremely local that has a truly global, positive impact.

That something has nothing to do with international trade agreements, and everything to do with the arts. The musical arts to be precise, and the Pacific Region International Summer Music Academy (PRISMA) is the reason.

This year’s PRISMA ran June 13-25 in Powell River, B.C., and was the fourth gathering of symphonic musical talent from around the world. Seventy-nine conservatory and university music students gathered in Powell River after more than 400 applied online, and they learned in two short weeks to make beautiful music together.

For many it was their first experience of playing in a symphony; for nearly all, it was their first experience of small town Sunshine Coast life.

The students travelled from all over the U.S., Canada, Thailand, Korea, Singapore, China, Peru, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Poland, Germany, Spain, and Belgium. Thirteen countries sent musical talent to PRISMA 4.

This year’s guest artists, the faculty of the academy, hailed from the Netherlands (Maestro Arthur Arnold); Michael Gieler, viola; and Fokke Van Heel, horn), the U.S. (Herbert Greenberg, violin; Mark Morton, bass; Janet Arms, flute and piccolo; and Marc Goldberg, bassoon), Canada (Amanda Forsyth, cello; Richard Roberts, violin; Jasper Wood, violin; Andrew Brown, viola; Brian Yoon, cello; Roger Cole, oboe; Alain Desgagné, clarinet; Mathieu Harel, bassoon; Marcus Goddard, trumpet; Gordon Cherry, trombone; Paul Beauchesne, tuba; William Linwood, percussion; Michelle Gott, harp; Megan Skidmore, soprano; and Tobin Stokes, composer), and Korea (Sungpil Kim, piano).

The symphony concert schedule included Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le Coq d’Or Introduction and Wedding March (1909); Beethoven’s Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano (1803); Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 (1937); and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (1904).

PRISMA on the Beach, the festival’s major public offering this year, featured an uniquely Canadian experience – the first performance of PRISMA’s Composer-in-Residence, Tobin Stokes and Tla’amin Nation’s Drew Blaney’s (Kespahl) Anthem of the People. The Anthem celebrates the Tla’amin Treaty, which was 20 years in negotiation. It restores Tla’amin rights to self-governance and provides the legal return of land title. Under it, the Tla’amin now exercise control over 8,300 hectares of land, including traditional territories and waters around the Powell River area, Lasquiti, Texada, and Cortes Islands, and the Comox Valley.

Where else in the world but Canada could Dmitri Shostakovich, the Tla’amin Nation, 79 international music students, and provincial and small town philanthropy come together to produce a PRISMA? I think it virtually impossible to provide or name a comparable setting or organization. Anywhere.

The mechanics of paying for all of this ($400,000 this year) are also worthy of consideration. Local businesses large and small, the Regional and Municipal governments, the Powell River Community Foundation, local philanthropists, the BC Ferries Corporation, the Powell River and BC Arts Councils, the Tla’amin Nation, and concert ticket buyers supplement the fees that the students (those who don’t attend on PRISMA’s Musical Merit Fund support) pay to attend.

This isn’t simply an initiative of big government or big business – it is much more of a locally supported festival that everyone buys into, including nearly 100 community volunteers, who do everything from scanning concert tickets, to building musical instrument storage shelving, to sitting on PRISMA’s board of directors. Support from the small PRISMA staff completes the picture in typical Canadian NGO fashion. The entire operation is efficient, professional, kind and uncomplaining. Whatever needs to happen to get the job done, gets done.

Perhaps most important of all is the example value of all this effort on behalf of creating great music. In a world that seems to focus more on petty nationalism than internationalism, on individual greed and economic advancement over group achievements, and “Making America Great Again”, it is increasingly rare to find a group of people dedicated to a magnificent common cause.

That is precisely what has happened in Powell River because of PRISMA. Seventy-nine students have now returned home to talk about their experience in a small town where culture trumps selfishness, and classical music creates friends for life. World – take note.


Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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