12th World Symposium on Choral Music

Five Fabulous Festivals - What we've learned

April 2019


Part of organising a significant and world-class choral festival ... is making sure a significant number of people come from all over the world to enjoy it. So, for the past two years, our small but perfectly-formed WSCM2020 team has been travelling the globe to meet those people and tell them why they cannot afford to miss it! (Seriously... don't miss it!)

Following our ‘acceptance of the torch’ at the 2017 Barcelona Symposium, we travelled to Beijing in 2018 for the truly massive 14th China International Chorus Festival and immediately afterwards to Estonia for ECA’s magical Europa Cantat in Tallinn. This year has already added many more frequent-flyer miles to our tally, through important trips to another two substantial choral communities: the USA and Australia.
In late February, we attended the American Choral Directors Association National Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. It is hard to convey just how large and all-encompassing this event is, but we got a sense of it in the gigantic exhibition hall, where we were one of over 200 stall-holders, each ‘telling their story’. 

Fortunately, many passers-by seemed eager to hear ours, stopping to watch on video the superb line-up of choirs and presenters we’ve been able to select and ask us about New Zealand in general. It helped that our Symposium partners IFCM and travel associates Tour Time had adjoining booths, to double our staff and increase the ‘WSCM2020 footprint’.

We also took it in turns to get out a bit. We roamed the expo, describing to other stallholders our exhibition plans for Auckland in July 2020 and testing their interest. Again, it seemed promisingly high. We caught a few concerts in the magnificent Kauffman Centre, its two attractive but quite different performance spaces very much needed for the 5000(!) conductors who attended the conference. We also held a very successful Kiwi-themed function for over a hundred choral dignitaries, in a ballroom we decorated with six large Polynesian images and supplied with NZ cheese, honey, chocolate and wine.

Talking of food, every one of our Uber drivers seemed duty-bound to recommend their favourite barbeque restaurant (it’s a KC thing), so we ate an unusual amount of red meat during the week. In fact, this may have helped us survive as it was really cold – minus 14-21C: far colder, by about 30 degrees, than we ever reach in midwinter Auckland! Having flown into Chicago, we returned home from Houston in order to test both of these newish Air New Zealand direct flights. Both were overnight and easy: the familiar ‘two meals, two movies and a sleep’.

Five weeks later, we were at the Australian National Choral Association’s biennial Choralfest in the lovely western port city of Fremantle, where it was a lot warmer and where the coffee was more like the Antipodean nectar we are used to. There were far fewer delegates than in Kansas City, but there was still an abundance of choirs to hear and a plethora of interesting seminars and other events to attend; indeed, we were in awe of how they squeezed it all into the schedule.

While we already knew a number of ANCA’s national team, these five days provided an excellent opportunity to meet and make friends with several office-bearers in Australia’s state chapters, many of whom expressed their excitement that Symposium was once more in this part of the world, 24 years after Sydney’s celebrated WSCM4 in 1996. New Zealand is not as exotic a destination for Aussies as it is for people further away, but many of them have never been here; it is, after all, three hours by plane even from the east coast – roughly the distance from London to Moscow!

It was a privilege to attend all five fabulous festivals. They gave us the opportunity to learn at first hand how organisers balanced all the competing demands of their particular event. They allowed us to assess and compare such aspects as travel, accommodation, venues, registration, signage, volunteers, communication, scheduling, technology, concert/workshop programming, expo placement and food! And at each we also discovered that a lot of people want to come on to Auckland in July next year to see what we’ve planned for them at WSCM2020.

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