The SMFA is one of the province’s oldest organizations and has influenced all Saskatchewan music. Its structures and programs have been followed throughout Canada. Inspired by Governor General Earl Grey’s vision of a dominion-wide festival, the SMFA was established in 1908 in Regina by Fred Chisholm and Frank Laubach. All Saskatchewan musical groups were invited to the first provincial festival in 1909 in Regina. The annual festival moved to Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Moose Jaw, and then continued the rotation. Excellent railway service allowed participants, including large ensembles, to come from all parts of the province. To satisfy increasing demands, local festivals were added, beginning at Unity in 1926. Expansion continued until there were fifty-one in 2002, including one fully bilingual event at Gravelbourg. An early president, Chief Justice Brown, secured a government grant to be administered by the University of Saskatchewan under its president, Walter Murray. Murray, another early SMFA president, provided office space for the SMFA secretary and a car to facilitate festival fieldwork. He used the SMFA’s success to secure a grant from the Carnegie Foundation to establish a University Chair of Music in 1931.
Adult vocal ensembles and solos were eligible for the first festival, with other categories added gradually: piano, strings, woodwinds, brass, speech arts (English and French), instrumental ensembles, percussion, special education, and First Nations drum/song. Ages range from six years to “senior open,” and festivals may add classes to suit local needs. Provincial awards kept increasing until several hundred performers competed through a system of district winners. This format has since been used by the Federation of Canadian Music Festivals in all provinces. The continued growth of large ensembles encouraged the formation of many provincial associations to accommodate various categories such as choral and band. The SMFA frequently commissions works for test pieces and special celebrations.
An annual concerto competition, established in 1979, provides cash prizes; the winner is a featured soloist with the Regina and Saskatoon Symphony Orchestras. A biennial opera competition (since 2000), provided by the late Gordon C. Wallis, is administered by the SMFA; the winner also appears with both symphonies. The University of Saskatchewan transferred its funding to the Saskatchewan Arts Board in 1966. The SMFA is now funded by the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation, the Saskatchewan Arts Board, the Department of Culture, Youth and Recreation, and SaskCulture. Anticipating its 100th Anniversary in 2008, the SMFA and its festivals plan appropriate celebrations, including special centennial classes.