Ian Skrzypek, 11, of Brantford, will be performing five piano pieces in the third annual Brant Music Festival being held virtually from June 15 to 20.


Eleven-year-old Ian Skrzypek has been practising his piano pieces for the Brant Music Festival for the past five months.

So, the Grade 5 student at St. Basil’s Catholic Elementary School is happy a modified version of this year’s competition, complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, is a go.

“I think it’s fun,” he said of his playing. “It’s a cool way to impress my friends.”

As COVID-19 continues to make large gatherings unsafe, organizers of the third annual Brant Music Festival have been working for several months to create a version that is a hybrid of a recorded and live virtual competition.

“We feel it’s a really good compromise,” said Naomi Wratten, a Brantford piano teacher and president of the festival’s organizing committee.

With an aim to approximate the experience of a traditional festival — usually held in churches across the city — as much as possible, this year’s version will combine recorded performances and live public adjudication via Zoom.

There will be 428 performances in six disciplines: brass and woodwinds, musical theatre, classical voice, strings, graded piano and piano.

Competitors will submit their recorded performances to the festival’s online registration system, along with a photo or scan of their musical scores. At the scheduled time of their class, during the week of June 15, participants will join a video conference with the adjudicator and watch a playback of all the submitted recorded performances. They’ll get a live verbal adjudication and, later, a written adjudication by email. The video conferences allow the competitors to see others perform and interact with the judges.

After the festival, some competitors will be invited to participate in the playoffs/trophy competition, which may involve a new recording of their performances. A Stars of the Festival virtual show, a compilation of selected performances from the festival, will be posted on YouTube. Festival winners will awarded scholarships and trophies.

“I’m really excited about it,” said Diana Dumlavwalla. “I grew up in that festival and a lot of the music teachers are still the same.”

Dumlavwalla, like thousands of other local children, competed for years in the Brantford Kiwanis Music Festival, a local springtime tradition for  more than 70 years. When the Kiwanis Club announced in 2017 it would no longer host the event, local musicians came together to form the Brant Music Festival.

Dumlavwalla, who is now an associate professor of piano pedagogy at Florida State University, started participating in the Kiwanis Festival when she was about nine. She will be adjudicating the piano and graded piano classes in the Brant Music Festival.

“It’s a really good setup,” she said of the virtual competition. “It will give competitors a really full festival experience.”

She said the “excitement, adrenaline and energy” that go into a live performance will instead be channelled into recording.

“It allows them to perfect what they’re playing. They will be recording in their own home in surroundings that they’re most comfortable with. There is a place for all these different types of evaluations.”

Wratten said the festival is less about the competition than about budding musicians setting a goal and working toward it. She said the festival has become “almost a rite of passage” for local music students and cancelling this year’s event would have been disappointing for them. Many work all year on the pieces they’ll perform.

“Ian likes the competition,” said Kelly Skrzypek of her son. “He was happy he could still perform. Piano can be such an isolating instrument. He enjoys seeing other kids.”

Ian will be playing five pieces in the festival, including Celebration March, a duet with his eight-year-old sister, Lily.