Judges at the 2013 Butterfield Young Musician of the Year had a tough time picking a winner Saturday night, choosing after much deliberation 12-year-old singer Hannah Fowler.
In second place was 15-year-old steel pan player Adam Stoner, with 14-year-old Aisha Stanuel-Taitte, on the euphonium, coming in third.
Each finalist performed two numbers, of which one was required to be classical, during Saturday’s competition at the First Baptist Church on Crewe Road.
Judge Glen Inanga, who had the difficult task of choosing a winner from among the 13 finalists along with fellow judge and Grammy-winning conductor, violinist and pianist John McLaughlin Williams, said it was Hannah’s rendition of Seligkeit by Franz Schubert that cemented their decision to award her first place among some strong contenders.
“Hannah Fowler is only 12. It was hard to divorce ourselves from the fact that she is just 12. The fact is there’s a certain maturity beyond her years and the way she responded to the song. The song was in German and her pronunciation was excellent. It’s a very difficult song to sing and requires a certain degree of control,” Mr. Inanga said.
Hannah was the youngest competitor among the group of finalists, who had been whittled down from 400 entries and were all under age 18.
The young performer, who first started singing at age 4 at the First Baptist Church Children’s Choir, first sang “I Dreamed A Dream” from the musical Les Miserables and followed it with the Schubert number.
Mr. Inanga said that for all the performers, it was the classical numbers they performed that stretched their abilities and really showcased what they could do with their voice or instruments.
Of Hannah’s classical turn, he said: “We asked ourselves was this the most accomplished performance of any particular piece in terms of technical and musical challenges and the answer was yes.”
But he hastened to add that the other competitors were not far behind.
Cayman Prep and High School student Adam Stoner, who studies pan under Earl La Pierre at the Cayman School for Pan, performed Earth, Wind and Fire’s hit song “Fantasy”. But it was Stoner’s performance of Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” that really impressed the judges.
Mr. Inanga said playing a Mozart piece on a steel pan was a challenge. “I was completely blown away by the level of control he displayed,” he said.
Aisha Stanuel-Taitte, a student of St. Ignatius Catholic School, was one of two euphonium – or baby tuba – players on the evening, but her control and confidence won over the judges. She played Chattanooga Choo Choo by Warren and Gordon and Die Tapferkeit by Telemann for her classical number.
“She was a strong contender,” Mr. Inanga said. “Her second piece by Teleman was extremely clean and well executed … She had a natural empathy of what was required in that style of Baroque music.
The Young Musician of the Year Award was sponsored by Butterfield Bank and organised by the Department of Education. According to Mr. Inanga, the number of entries each year increases and the quality of the finalists grows with each passing year.
This is the sixth year the competition has been held as part of the National Children’s Festival of the Arts.
Just before the performances for the competition kicked off, Education Minister Tara Rivers told the contestants, “Remember, it is not whether you win or lose it’s knowing that you gave it your best and in my eyes, you’re all extremely talented.”
Other contestants included Cayman Prep and High’s Emma Boyd-Moss on the clarinet; St. Ignatius Catholic School’s Duncan Anderson on the euphonium; Alexandria Franklin from St. Ignatius Catholic School on the flute; Cayman Music School’s Keeley-Shaye Ebanks and David Forbes, both of gave piano performances; vocalist Veronique St. Cyr from Cayman Prep and High School who will be moving to California in September after being a scholarship from a Performing Arts High School; Courtney Couch from St Ignatius Catholic School on the trombone; Triple C’s Tamara Tanis, also on the trombone; Nayil Arana from Cayman Music School on the violin; and singer David Brown from Cayman Academy.
All performers were presented with participants’ awards, while the top three finalists won trophies and money; with $500 going to the winner, $300 to second place and $100 to third place.
Mr. Inanga said the standard of all the finalists was consistently high. “That made our job a lot harder. There was not one person that was head and shoulders above all the others. That was why it took us a little bit longer to come to a decision,” he said.
By adding a classical performance requirement this year, the competition could showcase what the performers were capable of, something that pop songs usually cannot do. “This isn’t American Idol or Cayman Idol,” Mr. Inanga said. “We made sure everyone was given a chance to show how they responded to a more challenging environment.”
None of the performers had microphones, meaning they had to also show that they could project their sound to a large room. “That was a good test and a nice leveller,” the judge said.
Since the performers could choose their own numbers, the onus was on them to pick a musical piece or a song that showed off their abilities and their range. “If you picked something too easy, you were not necessarily given as much credit as you might have done had you picked something more difficult,” Mr. Inanga said.
He said he and Mr. McLaughlin Williams first narrowed the 13 finalists down to eight, then to five and then to the final three. Since both judges had been involved in choosing the finalists during the preliminaries, they were familiar with finalists’ work and had seen them grow throughout the competition. “We found that certain people raised their games a lot higher than we expected. After all, that’s the point of the competition,” he said.