Local students reach international competition level

Music for Young Children music teacher Heather Standish got to congratulate three of her students, all eight-years-old, who placed in the International Composition Festival.

Madelyn Sullivan, 8, placed fourth in the western region out of 559 children, for her piece entitled My Little Brother. Two other students received honourable mentions at the international level. Aislyn Spink, 8, for her composition Poppity Pop and Cayden DeGuzman, 8, for Donuts are Dancing.

“When the kids have an accomplishment like this, just to be highlighted boosts their confidence. I know from having my own kids, it’s so nice to have that validation,” said Standish, a certified music teacher with Music for Young Children.

“It is a big accomplishment when you see how many children entered this competition.”

Approximately 8,700 students from Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam competed for international recognition for their original compositions. “It’s very personal to them, and each one approaches it differently. Each one has a personal little process. Some kids are hesitant when they start and then they just fly. It’s so exciting to see that progression and confidence,” said Standish.

Music for Young Children works with kids as young as two and three up to young adults. There are several levels of training that are geared to age and skill-appropriate learning.

Students learn skills such as singing, song dynamics, listening skills that include by-ear playbacks and style identification, rhythmic ensembles and how to play both as part of a group and solo performances. “The kids interact and encourage each other. They play for each other. The adult comes to the classes, which supports the kids and keeps everyone on the same page for practicing.”

For young children, games and movements are used to reinforce focus and concept development.

“Some kids, you have to find different ways of motivating them. We want to get kids started, and have them know that it’s okay if they get something down and don’t like it, we can change it,” said Standish. “For some kids it’s a big obstacle because it seems like so much work and pressure. I’m just always proud and amazed at how different the compositions are.”

Composing begins at a very young age. The beginners learn to start identifying composers, learn about dynamics and explore creating their own songs mostly through games and small goals.

For example, Standish will ask the kids to find four notes that they like, mixing up the order of playing and see what they enjoy best. Those four notes build onto another four notes and so on until eventually the children learn how to build up the components of a song.

“The kids sometimes put words to their composition too. They don’t have too, but lots like too. They need tempo markings, and dynamics like how loud or soft, how smooth they want it – the kids can put all of those details in their composition. The thing is, they have to love it. If they love a sound, they go with it. Some parents would like to have some input, but this is the kids’ composition,” she said.

“Usually, the kids want to make long pieces so we talk about how to do that. It’s just play.”

Standish has worked through multiple levels of training to become a certified music teacher. She has taught every level available at Music for Young Children. She teaches keyboard.

“You can be tired at the end of a day, walk into a classroom of kids and you are energized. They are so excited and energetic and you catch that. To give kids that foundation is so exciting for me. If piano’s not their thing, they can take their skills with music and apply it to another instrument.”

The compositions are sent to Kanata, Ont. in the first week of March to go through intense, careful judging. Of the more than 24,000 students enrolled in Music for Young Children, those making it to international recognition level for their compositions surely have something to be proud of.

“I’m just proud of the kids. I take them through the process, but the kids are just excited and to me that’s what it’s about. For lots of kids, composing becomes a natural step for them, creatively,” said Standish.