At left: The Mount Baker Concert Choir in performance at the Ripon Csthdral, near Harrogate, Yorkshire — a church dating from the 7th Century.(Courtesy MBSS) At right: Michaela Eckersley, Kimberley Willicome and Andrew Menning were among the 60 students who attended the prestigious Harrogate festival in April. (Barry Coulter)

At left: The Mount Baker Concert Choir in performance at the Ripon Csthdral, near Harrogate, Yorkshire — a church dating from the 7th Century.(Courtesy MBSS) At right: Michaela Eckersley, Kimberley Willicome and Andrew Menning were among the 60 students who attended the prestigious Harrogate festival in April. (Barry Coulter)

Holding court in Harrogate: MBSS students bring highest level to UK festival

Mount Baker Music is back in town, after reaching greater heights than ever.

Sixty musicians and singers from the Mount Baker Secondary School music program set off in April for the Harrogate International Youth Festival in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England. Harrogate is one of the UK’s longest running Youth Festivals of music and performing arts and provides opportunities for young people from across the globe to come together and perform. MBSS is holding a concert tonight, Wednesday, May 3, to reprise the music they brought to the festival (showtime is 7:30 p.m. Admission is by donation).

MBSS joined groups from Finland, Thailand, Russia, Germany, the U.S., the U.K., China at the event, which ran April 14-19. The Cranbrook contingent was one of two Canadian groups — the other was from Guelph, Ontario.

Harrogate was the biggest ever such festival experience for both Mount Baker and Bueckert himself, he said.

“It’s a festival for every kind of youth arts that exists. We saw traditional dancing groups, the Moscow Violin Ensemble, British brass bands in their traditional uniforms and their incredible instruments, a ballet company, a Bhangra dance company from India, and traditional choir and band ensembles.

MBSS caught the attention of Harrogate organizers after a gold medal winning performance at last year’s Whistler Con Brio Music Festival.

“Harrogate Festival staff were out spying around, and spotted us there,” Bueckert said. “They contacted us, inviting us to the festival, without even need to audition. We didn’t have to audition, or pay for the expensive audition, and we were made welcome there amongst all these other people.”

The Cranbrook contingent brought two vocal groups (the concert choir and the vocal jazz ensemble), the 50-player concert band, and the jazz band.

The students flew Calgary to Heathrow, and spent a little time in London checking out some West End shows like “Wicked.”

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and to go with all your friends,” said student Kimberley Willicome. “Most people only think of going to the big cities — whereas we were going to Harrogate. We saw the countryside — I enjoyed that much more than seeing London.”

After arriving in Yorkshire by bus, the group stayed at dormitories at the college.

“We performed in some incredible venues — the 7th century Ripon Cathedral, in the town of Ripon,” Bueckert said. “Huge, gorgeous halls in Harrogate itself. The old Swan Hotel, where Agatha Christie wrote her books. We played in the lounge there with Jazz bands and Vocal Jazz, which was just incredible. The lounge was ornate Victorian period. Not so much of a lounge, per se, as a giant dance hall.”

Each of the four MBSS groups got their own venues and audiences, Bueckert said.

The size and incredible acoustics of some the venues enhanced the students’ music in unexpected ways, as well as providing some challenges.

“In the last venue we performed at, on closing night, the cathedral,” said Andrew Menning. “The room is so big and the ceilings go so high, the acoustics of it — you would sing and then you would hear yourselves. We were rehearsing, we actually came out of sync — listening to the echo rather than the people behind us.

“The sound covers the whole room — it was just so much bigger.”

The students learned a lot from the high level of talent of some of the groups, as well as establishing friendships. The Finnish National Girls Choir, for example, live together in a dorm, sing eight hours a day, study at night, and tour eight months of the year. “We got along with them pretty well,” said student Michaela Eckersley. “They were absolutely beautiful to listen to, especially in some of the big churches we performed in. There was a very interesting violin group from Moscow — they used no sheet music whatsoever, and they were amazing.”

International musical camaradrie was the motivating spirit.

“The first day we got in to the festival, they took all the concert bands and we all worked together to play a couple of pieces,” Menning said. “We hadn’t really looked at the pieces that much, but the other groups helped us out with that. We rehearsed in the morning and we performed it that night. It turned out really well.”

The Mount Baker music students really brought their A Game, Bueckert said.

“They really did bring it, to the very highest level. It was really quite jaw dropping to me — though I wasn’t surprised — at how they brought it at just the right time, on the biggest stage they’ll see for a long time.”

The Mount Baker Secondary School Music Department performs its tour concert, Wednesday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m. At the Key City Theatre. Admission is by donation.