County students bring gold medals home from national MusicFest

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Musical ensembles representing high schools in the Upper Grand District School Board brought gold and silver medals home from MusicFest Canada’s 52nd “The Nationals” in May.  

The invite-only annual event features “Canada’s finest young musicians, who perform for recognition as the country’s foremost musical ensembles,” in front of prestigious adjudicators, MusicFest officials state. 

The adjudicators awarded gold to the Erin District High School (EDHS) Tempo concert band, the Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute (GCVI)  string and orchestra ensembles, and the Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute (CCVI) symphonic, concert and acoustic ensembles. 

And the CCVI stage band and GCVI junior symphonic, senior symphonic and Gael force bands earned silver. 

The bands won gold previously, and GCVI is now one of only two Canadian schools that has earned gold in all five MusicFest divisions (concert band, choir, jazz band, string orchestra, and full orchestra), teacher Dan Austin said.  


But making music isn’t about the recognition, students and teachers told the Advertiser. It’s about camaraderie and community.

“There’s a big sense of community in all of the bands” at CCVI, said guitar player Kyle Kirk. 

He was recognized with an honour award while playing with CCVI’s acoustic ensemble – an award the adjudicators grant to one student in each ensemble. 

EDHS Tempo band’s first flute Rabaab Bhoday loves how each student plays their part in the band and everything comes together and everyone contributes to the musical expression and performance. 

Erin District High School’s gold-winning concert band includes, from left, Samrit Bhoday, Case Groenenberg, Davis McClinchey, Blaise Reed, Rabaab Bhoday, Kimran Heer and Nikita Philip. Photo by Robin George


Erin music teacher Cara Cameron said “band here at EDHS has become a real community. 

“We keep setting and reaching goals, which feels really great and helps us trust each other. And it happens so naturally because we all have that love of music. I would say our success is almost an inevitable outcome of their commitment to each other and to musical excellence.” 

Cameron described MusicFest as “such an enriching experience for everyone. 

“Not only did we perform well and get excellent feedback from nationally recognized adjudicators, but we were immersed in excellent music the whole time. 

“It was all very inspiring, and everyone wanted to come back to rehearsal to get even better.”

Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute’s string ensemble performing at MusicFest in May. Submitted photo


Davis McClinchey, who plays first bass clarinet in the EDHS tempo band, said an adjudicator sat with the band for about half an hour, outlining what they did well and where they could improve. 

Erin’s Tempo band practices for over an hour twice a week – in the mornings before school. It’s worth the early start, Bhoday and McClinchey agree, because of everything they get from band.

“I just love playing music and hearing everyone together,” McClinchey said. 

Bhoday added it’s never hard to wake up early, because her motivation to play with the band is so high. 

“I could talk forever about how much I love band,” Bhoday said, her eyes alight with excitement. “It’s a great feeling, getting to play with other people.” 

There’s a wide range of different personalities within the group, but everyone has something in common: their love for band, she said. 

“Everyone understands. Everyone has the same experience and feelings about it.”

All EDHS students are welcome to join the band, regardless of experience level. 

“If you can play three notes, that’s three notes we didn’t have before,” Bhoday said, and some students opt to start with something simple like tambourine.   

During ‘peak COVID’

Bhoday and McClinchey, now in Grades 12 and 11, both joined the band in Grade 9. 

For Bhoday, that was “peak COVID.” She said practicing virtually was “weird and not fun,” and she often questioned why she was doing it. 

But she could see older students’ passion, so she pushed through, and when things started to go back to normal in Grade 10, she “realized the magic of band.”

Now, its hard to imagine  life without it. “I sometimes wonder, what do kids who aren’t in band do? Because they don’t get to experience all of this stuff,” like travelling for festivals and performing at events.  

From left, Josh Cancado, Kathryn Michalos, Katy Oding, Kyle Kirk and Kenzo Szatori play in Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute’s stage band and symphonic, concert, and acoustic ensembles. Photo by Robin George


Puslinch resident Katy Oding plays in CCVI’s stage band and symphonic and concert ensembles, and she also can’t imagine spending her time a different way. 

“I love this … it’s so much fun,” she said, especially going to different events and spending time with her bandmates.  

When Oding first joined band in Grade 9 in 2020, she said it “kind of sucked” trying to practice virtually, but that experience gave her a greater appreciation for playing in person in Grade 10 – once she saw “what it actually feels like to make music together.” 


Now in Grade 12, Oding acts as a mentor to many of the younger musicians, and is feeling “crazy proud of everybody” for their wins. 

“I feel like a proud mom watching everybody,” she said. 

Grade 10 student Kathryn Michalos also plays in CCVI’s stage band and symphonic and concert ensembles. 

Michalos was initially hesitant to join, but was encouraged by teachers. She now finds playing music helps motivate her to put more effort into school work. 

Reflecting on the wins at MusicFest, Michalos said everyone was really proud of teacher Eric Froats and of each other. 

“I’m mostly proud of the Grade 9s for getting where they are,” she said. “I loved getting to teach them.” 

Froats said he’s “super proud of the students,” too, but noted they “don’t really focus on chasing awards.”

It’s more about building community – the CCVI music students visit elementary schools to help build their music programs and play at parades, events for non-profits, sports games, assemblies, and cultural days, he said. 

“That’s been more of our focus than necessarily trying to get gold standard.”  

Puslinch resident and Grade 10 student Josh Cancado plays in the CCVI’s stage band and symphonic and concert ensembles too, and describes how the musicians create community within the school. “Music unites everyone,” he said. 

Cancado praised his peers for their accomplishment in earning gold – and particularly praised Froats. 

MusicFest highlights

The highlight of MusicFest for Cancado was “sharing that joy” after winning gold. 

Puslinch resident and Grade 10 student Kenzo Szatori plays lead percussion in CCVI’s symphonic ensemble, and is a student representative for the group.

Szatori has played keyboard and drums since he was about eight years old, but is new to concert ensembles.   

The highlight of MusicFest for Szatori was stepping off the stage after performing – “you’ve been building up to that moment to play on stage at nationals, and you did it, and it went well, – that was the best moment for me.” 

Rebecca Chin, left and Kalyna Levytsky are the student directors for Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute’s string ensemble and first cello and first violin in the school’s orchestra. Photo by Robin George


GCVI string ensemble student directors Kalyna Levytsky and Rebecca Chin also described how great it felt to hear their groups’ hard work pay off, “showing off how hard we worked as a group,” Chin said, and “What we’ve done together, Levytsky added. 

It was also challenging, the Grade 12 students said, knowing it would be their last big performance with their high school ensembles.

Chin is the orchestra ensemble’s first cello, and Levytsky is first violin.  

Levytsky said she’s always loved playing violin, and chuckled as she expressed appreciation for having a school community to “fiddle around with.”