Eight-year-old wins at Kiwanis Music Festival

This past school year has brought isolation from friends, disrupted learning, and anxiety to many students. Therefore, it is nice to know that some young people have been able to thrive even while adjusting to the consequences of the pandemic.

Owen Zhong of Barrhaven, a Grade 2 student at the Adrianne Clarkson Elementary School, recently found out that won the trophy for the highest scoring cello performance in this year’s Ottawa Kiwanis Music Festival. Even though Owen has only studied the cello for a year-and-a-half, he entered the festival playing in the grade 6 (intermediate) category, where he performed music by J.S. Bach and J. B. Breval.

He said he was surprised that he won anything since it was his first time competing on cello, and he was expecting that everybody else would be at a higher level than he is. When asked what he will do to prepare for the provincial competition where, at eight years old, he will be one of the youngest competitors, he said “I will just try to play the best that I can and have fun.”

When not playing the cello, Owen likes to play video games, hockey, and practice piano. He is a huge fan of “the Great One” and is eager to share detailed accounts about Wayne Gretzky’s career. Chess tournaments are another important activity that Owen participates in; he laughs when he admits that he hasn’t won one yet. His varied interests include beat-boxing and he wants his mom to buy him a “launch pad” so he can learn to be a beat-boxing cellist. When asked what he looks forward to this summer, Owen replied, “eating a lot of chocolate ice cream! Oh yeah, and I want COVID to end so I can play with my friends and also have in-person orchestra again. It’s fun to learn new songs and play music games and see everyone’s cats online, but it is more fun when everyone can play together and hear each other at the same time. And also sometimes the internet connection is bad and it makes the music slow down and speed up which is kind of funny but also annoying.”  

Owen also likes to play duets with his older brother, Lucas, who plays violin. They both play in the Capital Strings and Voices Collective junior orchestra which won the Sylvie Rocheleau Memorial Trophy in the 2021 Kiwanis festival for the “best junior string orchestra performance”. Owen’s prize is named in memory of cellist, Pawel Szymcayk-Marjanovic, who was a regular extra cellist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. He hopes that when he is big enough to handle a full-sized cello, he will be awarded the use of Pavel’s cello, made by Quebec luthier Peter Mach and loaned to outstanding students through the Young String Players Foundation. Currently, this cello is being played on by another young student [Jacob Kang, aged 10, from Stittsville] who, like Owen, studies with Dr. Joan Harrison. Let’s all wish Owen good luck in his preparation for his next competition and with all of his future performances!