May 18, 2024


Buzz The Music

Music festival planner retires after 35 years

Norfolk Musical Arts Festival kicks off on Feb. 27

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Music has filled every one of Emma Depner’s 91 years.

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The Wilsonville woman has been a piano student, a piano teacher, a church organist for 56 years and, for 35 years, helped run the competitive Norfolk Musical Arts Festival.

“I’ve loved it,” said Depner about her retirement as the longest-serving committee member of the festival, which attracts hundreds of participants each year.

“I loved what I was doing and the people I worked with. They were all hard-working, committed members of the board and I just loved the work.”

Depner was in various roles in the festival over the years before stepping in as festival chair from 2004 to 2021. Even after stepping down from leading the event, she remained a board member for another year – the festival’s longest-serving committee member, before fully retiring last fall.

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And, it’s not that Depner plans to take to her rocking chair.

She and her husband, Mike, are still active farmers despite their advanced years.

“I just felt ready to go. It was time for somebody else to take over.”

The pandemic was part of that: Depner said switching to a virtual festival in 2021 and a pared down version of the event in 2022 was “out of her realm” with an emphasis on digital entries and virtual performances.

“But I was really happy we were able to do that and not shut down completely.”

This year, the festival is back in full force, says festival secretary Vicky Lachine.

“Everyone is really excited to be back and we’re ready to go. It will be so nice to see the choirs, bands and barber-shoppers back at the event and several community and youth choirs.”

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This year’s festival, which began Feb. 27, has about 500 classes and performances featuring around 650 performers – less than pre-pandemic levels but a massive feat of organizing.

The festival committee paid tribute to Depner’s long musical impact on the community, saying it was Depner and festival founder Linda Bonadeo-Boll who got the first event running in 1987.

Andy Blackwood, who replaced Depner as board chair, said his predecessor was “the ultimate” in calm common sense and dedication to the festival.

“When she announced she was leaving, we understood, but we were so sorry to see her go. Emma loved the music and seeing the kids and everything about the festival.

“Whenever I have a problem posed to me, I immediately think ‘What would Emma do? What would Emma say?’ I do it all the time.”

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This year, for the first time, Depner will be sitting in the audience at many of the events, as a spectator only.

“I enjoy the choirs, but then I always enjoy everything. Maybe the bands and the speech arts .. I’ll have to see.”

Music festival back in full force

The 2023 Norfolk Musical Arts Festival is back in full form for the first time since 2020 this year.

More than 650 performers from Norfolk, Haldimand, Brant and Hamilton will compete in about 500 performances and classes.

“We’re thrilled to be back,” said festival committee chair Andy Blackwood, “and thrilled to have all our categories represented.”

From solo competitors to school choirs, the festival offers a change to compete against others and receive a constructive critique of a performance for musicians of all sorts, singers and spoken word performers.

Running from Feb. 27 to March 2 at various area churches and schools, the festival is freely open to the public with donations encouraged.

On March 2, competition for specific cups and monetary awards will be held at St. James United Church on Colborne St. S. at 7 p.m.

A final festival highlights and awards ceremony will be held on March 7, 7 p.m. at Old Windham United Church, 30 Glendale Cres.

For the full schedule and information, go to

[email protected]



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