A Guest Blog by: Deidre Tansey for Festival Seekers

The sun is sitting low, blocked by scattered clouds, and Maffeo Sutton Park is slowly beginning to fill.  People from every part of Nanaimo and beyond are headed towards the charming park pavilion. Young families carrying coolers filled with snacks, couples holding hands, and seniors with lawn chairs, knowingly armed with golf umbrellas and warm clothes.

The setting is casual, buoyant and incredibly scenic, not the expected scene for a symphony orchestra, but that is the draw! Every year for over a decade, music lovers have gathered in the park for an exuberant outdoor show. Calvin Dyck, the concertmaster for the Vancouver Island Symphony, invites the entire audience into the experience from start to finish. His enthusiasm and humour take the idea of ‘symphony’ to an entirely new level of entertainment. A lady sitting next to me shared that she’s been coming for years now. “A friend dragged me one year, I told her I didn’t want to go because I don’t really like classical music. This show changed all that for me! I love how they make music come alive!”

A group of friendly young ladies were hanging out ‘back stage’ preparing to perform the next song. When I ask them which instruments they are playing, their surprising reply is “their feet!” From Abbotsford, they are a nationally ranked “Skipping Sensations” team. The orchestra provides musical support while they thrill the audience with their athletic tricks!

Symphony by The Sea is a lovely, relaxing way for all ages to be introduced to the joys of music without the need to sit still and whisper. When the enthusiastic Concert Master called out for assistance, children emerged from every corner of the Nanaimo park. They were each given a Union Jack flag and ran to the front of the stage to take part in the upbeat performance of the Coronation Song, and the crowd loved it!

The mood changed dramatically during Eric Harper’s moving performance of his song “Rain”, a tender, lilting ballad with his guitar and the entire orchestra backing him up. Turns out the song title foreshadowed the evening’s weather.

The skies finally released the rain they’d been holding for hours, but surprisingly few of the crowd dispersed. The incredible music had a hold on them! Many people in the crowd were long-time attendees, so they knew what to expect, and were prepared. A sea of umbrellas emerged and people settled in to enjoy. Although the park was dampened, moods were not. Overheard in the sea of people, “Nanaimo-ites can handle the rain, we are not made of sugar.” Perhaps not, but it was a pretty sweet night all the same!


Things to know before you go next year:

-Performances start at 6pm, be at least an hour early, parking can be challenging

-Bring snacks, or dinner…there are picnic tables! Sponsors provide small treats and there are snacks for sale

-Cash donations are collected to support the Symphony, any support is greatly appreciated

-Chairs, blankets and …you guessed it…umbrellas are very welcome!

For more festivals and events happening in and around the Nanaimo Area as well as on Vancouver Island, make sure to check out FestivalSeekers!


See you out there!
~Deidre for FestivalSeekers

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