Welcome to the first edition of the 20th Anniversary Blog. Throughout 2019 on the 20th of each month we will share stories and photos of the Westben journey from cornfield to Barn to International Centre. Reflect back and dream on with us!
by Donna Bennett, Westben Co-Founder
1. My husband Brian Finley and I moved back to my home town of Campbellford in 1989 to have our first child after living and performing in London, England. 2. We started doing concert tours across Canada and parts of the US and fell in love with a festival run by the Philadelphia String Quartet called the Olympic Music Festival, two hours outside of Seattle, Washington. The venue was a turn of the century milk barn that housed Chamber music concerts from June to September. As artists we lived in tiny cabins on the property for a week while rehearsing with the other musicians. We performed in the milk barn to an audience on church pews and hay bales, complete with donkeys braying in the meadow. 3. Back in Campbellford we started teaching private music lessons, led the music at our local church and continued to perform across the country. 4. In 1997 with some friends we put on a fully staged production of Jesus Christ Superstar with 100 members in the cast and crew and surprisingly sold 2000 tickets. The support from the church, the cast and community was inspiring. With only 3400 people in Campbellford we knew something special was happening. The following year our production of The Sound of Music drew even more enthusiasm. 5. One sunny afternoon a group of friends gathered on our front lawn and we dreamed of what it would be like to continue this music making on a more permanent basis. 6. Could we renovate the barn on the Westben property into a concert hall, or build a new barn? Could we put on concerts in the summer? 7. In 1999, Brian and I Co-Founded the Westben Arts Festival Theatre, as a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to creating, enriching and integrating professionals and amateurs in musical projects and educational activities. 8. Run by a Board of Directors, Westben received its charitable status in 2000. 9. Our vision for this new 400 seat timber framed Barn facility was that it would be acoustically excellent, accessible for audiences, in both comfort and style, and harmonious with the surrounding farmland. The goal was not to shut out the surroundings, but to have doors that would roll open so nature would be part of the Westben experience. 10. On his bulldozer Roger McGee shaped the corn field, Nicholson Brothers poured the cement pad and Didier Schvartz of Lakefield’s Sun Wood Company, with his own patent equipment, designed The Barn and carved the timbers. Volunteers renovated seats and put on the locally milled siding. 11. The night the timber frame structure was raised, our two children pulled out their violins and with construction hats on, played the first sounds of music in "The Barn". A small group of volunteers celebrated dreams to come with a toast of champagne. 12. On July 1, 2000 the opening gala concert featured full symphony orchestra and soloists including Mark DuBois, Gerald Finley, Nancy Hermiston, Louise Winter, Stephen Sitasrski, Daniel Warren, the Westben Festival Chorus and Brian Finley and myself. 13. It had been raining for days and the parking lot was a mud bath so the day of the opening gala volunteer Doug Keene found a local business park that would allow everyone to park their vehicles. He then organised a team of volunteers with vans to drive everyone up the road to The Barn and the concert started on time! (Well, almost). 14. When Brian walked onto the stage to welcome everyone, the whole audience stood up applauding. Everyone knew the effort it took to make this dream happen and everyone there had a part in Westben's beginnings. The volunteers, the local businesses, the artists, friends, family, the community. It was a team effort. 15. When Brian and I received the Order of Canada in 2017 for Westben, we made it clear that we took one for the team, Team Westben. 16. That first season had 4 weekends of concerts, and in 2019, our 20th Anniversary Season, there will be 25 concerts of classical, broadway, jazz, folk, fiddle, fun and Indigenous music. And that’s just the summer! 17. 19 seasons, 400 concerts, featuring performances by top Canadians, international artists, and local musicians, 91,000 tickets sold, and over 10,000 learners inspired and guided. Westben has mounted 14 operas (including 2 world premieres) and 10 musicals (including 5 world premieres) and welcomed some of the world’s best performing artists, from Gerald Finley, Angela Hewitt, and the Canadian Brass to Peter Appleyard and Oliver Jones, Tafelmusik, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, Colin Mochrie, Sarah Harmer, and many more. In the past 7 seasons alone, Westben has mounted 22 offsite productions from Kingston to Peterborough to Toronto. 18. In 2018 Westben re-imagined itself as a year round Centre .The Vision - to be a leading, international centre for connection and creativity through music. The Mission - to nurture communities through exceptional musical experiences and at it's core - to bring people together through music. Throughout the year we now have House Concerts, First-Friday Lunchtime Tick Talks, Christmas productions and the new Sunday afternoon Concerts to a Tea. Educational programs include community bands, choirs, Life-Long Learning and school programs. The development of One-of-a-kind Experiences continues with the new enhanced Dare to Pair series including the new Chocolate Voices and a Secret Concert. 19. The next generation of Bennett Finley’s are getting involved as our son Ben heads up the Performer-Composer Residency taking place in July and our daughter Eve will be introducing an Electronic Music Making Workshop for Teens during March Break. 20. Happy 20th everyone. Let's celebrate, looking back and dreaming onwards!