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The Winkler Festival of the Arts was once the second largest festival in Manitoba and in the entire British Empire, now known as the Commonwealth. The only festival on a bigger scale was in Winnipeg, going back almost 90 years.

"It does go back as far as the very early days of our festival here in Winkler to 1930 where they had just music events. In 1933 was the first year that there was actually adjudicated event," says President Dorothy Plett.

The festival had entries from across Southern Manitoba, but it eventually split into separate community festivals. Plett remembers the festival from when she was younger.

"It was piano, voice, speech arts, band, instruments, you name it and we did it all. We didn't just pick one little area, we learnt how to speak in public."

She says the festival gives students the opportunity to perform in front of an audience so they can learn to persevere through pressure, and broaden their skill set, an opportunity she says is constantly dwindling.

"You know, it's not all about the music. It's so much about being able to present yourself under pressure. If you think about the rest of your life you have to go to a job interview, there's pressure. You have to go to your driver's licence, it's pressure. You have to go on a first date, it's pressure, so they may as well learn how to excel with a little bit of pressure early on in life."

To keep these chances to perform, Plett says they can always use more volunteers with different passions. Their current committee is made of members that joined within the last five years and they love the new blood getting involved behind the scenes.

"Not all of them are musical, let me make that clear . . . There are always things to do on a festival committee organizational wise that have nothing to do with music."

This year piano sessions will be on April 5, 8-12 with the awards night taking place on the 12. Vocal/Choral will take place on the 15-16 with a celebration night on the 16. All sessions will be at the P.W. Enns Concert Hall in Winkler and are open to the public.

For more information about the festival and the schedule, you can go to their website.

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