Brant Music Festival rewards hard work

Brian Thompson
The Brantford Expositor
June 11, 2019

Winning the Richard and Virginia Blaha Memorial Silver Tray was like a dream come true for Kendra Perras.

The 17-year-old pianist from Paris has been playing in the Brant Music Festival and its predecessor, the Brantford Kiwanis Music Festival, since she was four.

“I’ve grown up watching older students with these awards,” Kendra said. “It has always been a goal of mine to win, especially the Blaha award.”

John Blaha presented the award that is named for his parents — Virginia, a piano teacher, who died in 2015 and Richard, who died in 2002 — and given to the outstanding festival performer of the senior trophy classes. Virginia created the Blaha award in memory of her husband. It was renamed following her death.

Kendra said that John Blaha told her that his mother predicted the young pianist would win the award when she got older. “It made me tear up when he gave it to me.”

The Blaha prize is among the major awards presented following performances by some of the festival’s top-scoring competitors.

The festival’s second annual edition featured 600 performances in 300 classes, which were judged by eight professional adjudicators. A trophy competition was held May 4. And the festival culminated with a Stars of the Festival showcase on May 14.

Kendra, who also received the W. Ross Macdonald Trophy for the top associate level piano performance, attributed her success to her piano teacher, Naomi Wratten, and to support she gets from her parents.

Katie Swezey made a triumphant return to the festival after a four-year hiatus, winning The Voice trophy, and the Donna Chapin Crystal Rose Bowl.

Now married, the 21-year-old, who competed in past festivals as Katie Cox, graduated last year from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where she studied vocal and theatre performance and childhood developmental psychology.

“I’m hoping to make music my career,” Swezey said. “My dream is to perform in musical theatre.”

Additionally, she said she wants to get a music therapy licence so she can help children with special needs.

Swezey has been competing in the festival since the age of seven, and started studying at the Hernandez Voice Studio at age 11.

She said that going away to school to study voice and theatre was challenging, to the point she felt she had lost her love of singing.

Upon returning to Brantford, she was encouraged by her teacher, Irena Hernandez, to perform in this year’s festival.

“It was one of the best things I ever could have done,” Swezey said. “It brought me back to my roots, and made me fall back in love with my voice, and singing in general.”

She competed in two musical theatre categories, plus two classical categories featuring a Gilbert and Sullivan number, and a contemporary opera piece.

“Musical theatre, for me, is way more difficult than classical because it takes so much acting ability in addition to singing,” Swezey said. “ You can’t sacrifice one for the other, they have to be on equal planes.”

“Holding those trophies in my hands is confirmation that I can do this, that my hard work has meant something, and to never stop fighting for my goals,” the singer said. “These awards mean the world to me.”

Other major award winners are:

• Dr. Grant Honeyman Memorial Trophy (strings): Daniel Lee.
• Keighley’s Jewellers Junior Rose Bowl (voice): Jordan Goodridge.
• Markwell J. Perry Trophy (piano): Eric Eigler.
• Rotary Award (participant with most potential): Daniel Lee.

The 2020 festival is scheduled from April 27 to May 2.