Francesca Barrett (10) explores an annual institution. 

The Hastings Musical Festival is a music, drama and dance competition that helps young people develop a passion for any of the three and helps build their confidence. The festival takes place at the White Rock Theatre and is all about performing something you love. You can do group dance, sing a duet, recite a poem, or even play a Glockenspiel. The festival helps get young people on their feet with performing. It helps to build their confidence and be brave so they can show off what they love.

The music festival started in 1908 and has been going on ever since. The first ever music festival in Britain started in 1870 so the Hastings Musical Festival was relatively late. When the pandemic struck so suddenly in 2020 the festival organisers didn’t know how to react and what to do. Naturally it took quite a while to get back into the swing of things. 

Francesca declaims! 
CREDIT: Olli Hopkins

Francesca’s entrance… 

I entered the Hastings Musical Festival when I was much younger and found that it helped with my confidence and my speech. It has helped me get on my feet with my acting too.

I was very unhappy when I found out that I wouldn’t be able to perform on the stage of the White Rock Theatre in the 2020/2021 festival, yet relieved that it wasn’t cancelled. Lots of people (big and small) continued to enter the festival because even if it wasn’t live, and online instead, it would still build their confidence and passion. 

… enter Kai

I interviewed Kai Cooper, a former Hastings Musical Festival competitor, who is currently studying a three-year Musical Theatre Degree course at the Emil Dale Academy, a triple threat musical theatre college (a ‘triple threat’ is someone who can sing, dance and act).

Kai first decided to take part in the Hastings Musical Festival when he was 11 and before he wanted to become a professional. It was just a hobby then, however, and as he performed more often, he realised that he wanted to do it as a future career.

His favourite parts of the music festival were the group pieces; for example, the musical theatre group pieces, since he performed with lots of people and built strong relationships with them. 

Kai was awarded a bursary from the Hastings Musical Festival which helped him pay for his course at the Emil Dale Academy. He says that it has helped him so much, he is not sure where he would be without it.

The music festival helped him a lot with his acting, music and dance and helped him improve his performances. Maybe we will see Kai as an adjudicator at the festival in the future, although he will focus on his career first.

Left: Dancer Phoebe Harris; Right: Ballerina Ruby Chisholm
CREDIT: Olli Hopkins

she is back… 

I was invited to perform in the celebration evening, on 17 October this year and performed my fabulous poem Angry Aunty Antonella, by Mr Peek. It is one evening, each year, after the festival to which some competitors are invited. You don’t have to be the winner of your category, you just have to love what you do. It was an amazing experience. An evening with little and big performers. An evening of music, dance and lots of drama. An experience that introduced me to Kai. 

… as is the Festival!

Now, the Hastings Musical Festival is back. After almost two years of Covid, the music festival will give us all a chance to perform on stage once again. Entries are open until the end of November 2021. 

I’m entering for next year. It will be weird performing on a stage again and I won’t be the only one, I’m sure. I believe that other kids like me who like drama, music or dance should try the music festival. It would help with their confidence with constructive feedback to help them improve. Sign up. Take a risk. Have a go. See

Tom Bruges composing  
CREDIT: Ben Bruges

One performer’s view

Before the pandemic, Tom Bruges came first in his category for classical guitar performing his own composition and third overall. He explained: “As a local performer and composer, I believe the Hastings Musical Festival provides many opportunities regardless of genre of music or level of proficiency. The main opportunity being the ability to meet like-minded performers in the local area. With the festival back this year I had the opportunity to perform my own arrangement of a folk guitar piece with a dancer and a singer which was, as always with the Festival a fun and positive experience.”

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