The cream of Shetland’s young musical talent slugged it out on stage on Wednesday night for the prestigious titles of Junior and Senior Young Musician of the Year.
The honours went to 11-year-old Finley Armstrong of Dunrossness Primary School for his trumpet playing and violinist Hannah Adamson, 15, a pupil at Sandwick Junior High School.
The night was arguably the high point of the Shetland Schools Music Festival, held this year at Mareel, and the 69th year of Young Musician of the Year. The high standard of playing posed considerable problems for adjudicator, retired instrument instructor Neil Morris (a local man this time, instead of the two adjudicators brought up from south last year), who had positive comments about all the young participants.
He made a fairly quick decision that Finley should win the junior title – the only brass player in the contest, he had entranced with Vois-tu la neige qui brille (Do you see the glistening snow), by French composer Jean-Baptiste Arban, and the favourite America by Leonard Bernstein, from the musical West Side Story.
But when it came to the senior title he jokingly asked for a coin to toss, and forced to make a decision when standing on stage, compere Pamela Main beside him holding the trophy. He eventually opted for Hannah for her violin renditions of Allegro Brillant by Willem Ten Hav and Rondino by Fritz Kreisler.
The nerve-wracking process of being on stage seemed to dissipate as the youngsters started to play, all engrossed in their music and producing competent and mature performances. There were nine junior entrants, all of whom must have reached grade three or above, and it was heartening to see a number of boys competing as they are so often under-represented at such events. The contestants played instruments ranging from piano to alto sax to violin – some hugely impressive, playing long pieces from memory – with Finley the only brass player.
Some competitors engaged well with the audience, announcing their pieces – this was a plus as Mr Morris said he was looking for confidence and personality as well as technical ability – and some looked relieved to get off the stage.
But all impressed with their musical skill. Not all the performances were faultless, although many were, but they kept going and covered their mistakes very commendably.
The senior competition was closely fought, with six entries (two from Hannah Adamson, who played alto sax as well as violin), all of a professional standard.
Piano player Amy Laurenson from Anderson High School excelled, Sophie Wishart from Sandwick Junior High School on cello was outstanding, and fellow Sandwick pupil Caitlin Munro produced beautiful sounds on her clarinet. One boy, Lewis Murray from Brae High School, competed, displaying tremendous energy and enthusiasm on the drums. He played a samba and a funk number and, it seemed from Mr Morris’s comments, that he came close to winning except that his sounds rather dominated the backing track.
Overall, said Mr Morris afterwards, it had been a “super competition”, which three or four entrants could have won. The standard had been “phenomenal”, as it had been all week, and he thanked the “dedicated” teachers.
The winning pupils were naturally delighted. Finley, who has been playing trumpet for two and a half years, was tutored by recently-retired Roy Hughson. Beaming from ear to ear he said: “It was a bit scary going on stage at first, but when I’m playing I love it, it’s a really good feeling.”
The P7 pupil is a massive Louis Armstrong fan and said he chose the trumpet as his instrument because he wanted to be like his hero. He practises around 20 minutes a day, about as much as his mouth muscles can manage. His mother Janice paid tribute to his tutor: “Roy is a superb teacher, an absolute inspiration to Finley, but has not been replaced and I wonder if there’ll ever be any other brass winners.”
Senior winner Hannah, who plays five instruments, is a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland and is studying for Standard Grades. She said: “I’m thrilled, I didn’t expect to win as there are so many other good players.”
Her tutor Alan Gifford said: “It’s a very proud moment, Hannah is a delight to teach but there are no poor players [here], they’re all good.”