Janie Fries, chair of the Moose Jaw Band and Choral Festival, has confirmed that the 2024 Moose Jaw Band and Choral Festival will be an exclusively out-of-province event — for the first time, no Saskatchewan bands or groups will participate. 

“It was a very difficult decision for our committee to make,” Fries said, “because we are made up of present, past, and future band directors, music teachers...  

“But we just felt that with everything so up in the air, with negotiations between the province and the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, that it was actually in the best interest of everyone just to close the festival to the Saskatchewan groups and have an out-of-province festival only.” 

The decision to host only bands and choirs from Alberta and Manitoba has chopped the group entries for the festival from 104 (a record) to 42.

The festival has been ongoing in Moose Jaw since 1950, starting out as the Kinsmen Band Festival. Choirs became part of the festival in 1977, and the two have been hand-in-hand ever since. Volunteers like Fries took over organizing duties in the ‘90s. 

“What it has evolved into is a four-day festival for bands and choirs,” Fries explained. “Mostly across the Prairie Provinces, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. 

“We had 104 groups register this year. It has been growing constantly — we’ve had to increase the number of venues and to extend the number of days, so that it is now a four-day festival for concert bands, jazz bands, and choirs. 

“I do have to say that concert bands, the larger groups, are the most popular. ... If we were to stretch it out end-to-end, we would have 12 days of music festival, (just) with the bands.” 

The elimination of more than half the registered groups has had a major impact, but the committee kept the festival at four days to reduce the inconvenience for people who have to travel. 

“Those out-of-town groups had all of their travel plans booked, their hotels booked, and it would have been quite taxing on them and stressful to have to change all of that,” Fries explained. 

Instead of concert bands performing at the Mae Wilson, Peacock Collegiate, and St. Andrew’s United Church, only Peacock will host them. Those performances will happen Monday through Friday, May 13 to 16. 

The jazz bands will be at St. Aiden Anglican Church on Wednesday, May 15 (from three days down to one), and the choirs will perform at Zion United Church for a day and a half — the afternoon of Tuesday the 14th and during the day on Wednesday the 15th. 

The Teachers’ Federation is scheduled to vote on a contract proposal before the festival, but it will still be too late, Fries admitted. 

“A lot of the school divisions were actually cancelling their Saskatchewan groups. Their school administrations were saying, ‘everything is so up-in-the-air, you’re out’, so we had already lost some groups. 

“I’m very sad, it was not an easy decision to make, especially when we think about grade 12 students who went through COVID. ... And then last year, we had this great festival, and now they’re not coming this year. 

“But we do have to make a decision based on our finances. We cannot run this festival in the red — we want to keep it going for years to come.”

More information, including ticket details, schedules, history, trip planning, and sponsorships, is available at mjbandandchoral.org.