Bamfield’s Music By The Sea festival

Sheet music at Bamfield's Music By The Sea concert, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There are not, I don’t think, enough words to describe the enchanting Music By The Sea concert series held each July in the tiny west coast hamlet of Bamfield. ‘Superlative’ comes to mind, as do ‘magical’, ‘marvellous’, ‘exquisite’, ‘awe-inspiring’, ‘spectacular’, ‘splendid’….well, you get the idea. Essentially, it is an experience I would wish for on behalf of anyone who has a love of any type of music.

Musicians at Music By The Sea, Bamfield, Vancouver Island

What could be lovelier than world-class music performed at sunset…

View from Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries, Bamfield, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

… with a world-class view of Barkley Sound

Music By The Sea was launched in 2006, the brainchild of Christopher Donison of Victoria. Donison has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the musical world, but I have to think that the fulfillment of his dream of creating a gathering of some of the most talented musicians from around the world in a stunning natural setting is the zenith of everything he has accomplished. Happily, music lovers as well as the musicians benefit from that dream.

Christopher Donison at Music By The Sea festival, Bamfield, Vancouver Island

Christoper Donison is the mind behind the magic

Donison’s vision has included a myriad of musical activities during the course of the nine-day festival, but for the general public the big draw is primarily the performances, based at the stunning Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries. The Rix Centre is affiliated with the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on the east side of the inlet. It reflects much of what is special about the west coast of the Island – the scallop-shell shape, astounding acoustics and floor-to-ceiling glass walls that look on to breathtaking scenery make the perfect setting for inspirational evenings filled with music and good fellowship.

One of the real beauties of this international gathering (of both musicians and spectators) is the eclectic range of music on offer. Every year and program is different, but classical, jazz and popular tunes are frequently heard in a single evening. Musicians specializing in various genres collaborate between performances and present their combined musicianship for the patrons – another interesting experience. While there certainly are classical pieces scheduled, which might lead folks to think this is a pretty high-brow event, it is far from that. At one point during a performance we were treated to three pianists playing at once – one on the spoons and two others on the piano (including Donison, who plays a pretty mean jazz piece despite his ‘classical’ demeanor). It was fun, upbeat and about as far from snobby as you can imagine.

Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries, Bamfield, Vancouver Island

The Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries – home to the Music By The Sea festival

One of the things we love best about this event is the very relaxed and hospitable mood. The evening concerts are scheduled to coincide with the sunsets, enhancing the exquisite atmosphere. Those attending are able to purchase a glass of wine and visit indoors or on the wrap-around balcony prior to the commencement of the evening performance, or during the break. Attire ranges everywhere from casual to high-end. No one seems to care about the fashion aspect – the music and magical ambiance are what it’s all about.

While Donison is the driving force behind all this wonderfulness it needs to be noted that a legion of volunteers also help to make this special event what it is. They are there helping to serve wine, sell Music By The Sea souvenirs (only tasteful ones, of course) and performing a myriad of other tasks. There can be little doubt that the integral community involvement contributes to all that is special about this most unique and extraordinary event.

Musical instruments at Music By The Sea festival, Bamfield, Vancouver Island

If you plan to go, make sure to stick around Bamfield for a few days so that you can enjoy the full range of musical talents at the performances. If you stay in West Bamfield you may well end up chatting with some of the musicians as they wander along the boardwalk or head for a water taxi –  that informal access makes the entire experience all the more memorable.

It should also be noted if you do stay in West Bamfield and need to get across the narrow inlet to the Rix Centre for the performances that there is a free water taxi ride included in the price of your ticket. Check with your accommodation hosts about pick-up times and locations.

Quite simply, Music By The Sea is one of the highlights of our year, steeped in good will, enchanting music and one of the most beautiful environments anyone could possibly imagine. Its scintillating memory ensures that we will return, year after year after year. If you still need convincing, go to the website listed below and click on the ‘Watch the 2012 Video’ link. It will be enough to have you booking tickets as soon as you have finished watching.

This year’s event runs from July 22 – 30

For further information on Music By The Sea, visit the website at

The Rix Centre For Ocean Discoveries is located at 100 Pachena Road, Bamfield

GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat. 48.83493590001798 Long. -125.1366376876831

N 48 50.096 W 125 08.198


About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers.
In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.

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