New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
SAINT JOHN – Betty Angevine says when she’s out and about in Saint John, she still sometimes hears a child say, “Look – there’s the music lady.”
After more than 65 years being involved with the New Brunswick Competitive Festival of Music, she says she sees herself that way, too.
Angevine was just presented the New Brunswick Volunteer of the Year award from the Federation of Canadian Music Festivals.
“I was absolutely honoured. I’m really thrilled,” the 73-year-old said, sitting at a table in the library of St. Mark’s United Church, where she has been running the piano portion of the festival for years.
“It’s a big job and volunteers are hard to come by and I know that I can count on Betty,” said Nadine Lane, the festival administrator who put Angevine’s name forward for the award.
Angevine first started playing piano at six years old. She would take the streetcar all by herself from Manawagonish Road to uptown, and then walked right down Germain Street. She said she can recall climbing the steep stairs up to her teacher’s studio.
“Oh my gosh, she was strict. She was so strict,” Angevine said. She used to practise for a half-hour each day and kept her nails trimmed short for every lesson.
Angevine said her mother, who was a violinist in the first New Brunswick Orchestra in Saint John, wanted her to take the piano lessons.
“I loved it from the beginning,” she said, adding that classical music always appealed to her. “I just love the sound of it. The softness.”
Angevine competed in the music festival from six years old until she was 17. She missed one year while she went away to study. When she returned, she began to volunteer at the festival.
At the time, it was a single-day event held at Saint John High School.
The volunteers used to make coffee in a small room at the back of the school. Angevine said they nicknamed it “festival mud.”
“It just never worked out the way it was supposed to,” she said with a laugh. “And it was potent as bejeebers.”
She used to run the number board, where children could see when they were to go on. As the festival grew, Angevine took on greater roles, eventually joining the executive and becoming the administrator.
“After that I just ran the place, didn’t I?” she said to Lane with a laugh.
Angevine has volunteered with the festival for more than 55 years, and been a part of it for more than 65. She’s seen it progress from a single day event in one location to a two-week, seven-venue event. She’s helped numerous children through nerves and poor performances, and greeted them when they came back from studies or time away.
“Your heart just aches for them,” she said. “I’ve had kids walk off the stage crying, I’ve had kids bang the door.” She said, adding she’s also had to deal with upset parents after performances.
Over the years, she said she’s learned what it takes for a child to do well: practice.
“Practice, practice, practice,” she said. Her strict music teacher taught her to keep time so well that Angevine said she can always tell if a performance is speeding up or lagging behind.
Angevine herself has not been too much of a performer – she taught piano for 14 years after she was married, and then gave Royal Conservatory of Music exams from her home.
But she said she gets nervous performing in front of people, just like some of the children she has worked with at the festival.
She said the event has helped bring out many talented Saint John musicians.
“We’ve had good, good musicians basically because of this festival,” she said. Many leave to pursue their studies or music careers.
“When they come back, and they say, ‘Oh, hey music lady,’ it gives me a thrill,” she said.
The New Brunswick Competitive Festival of Music will be held next year from April 22 to May 4.