The Commonwealth Composition Challenge 2020 Finalists

Aditya Manik

My name is Aditya Manik, I’m 15 years old and I’m from Mumbai. I’ve loved music ever
since I can remember, and have been learning music formally since I was 7 years old. Bach’s
style of composing music absolutely fascinates me and so does Mozart’s, I yearn to compose
even one-tenth as well as they did, and I’m sure that yearning will keep me striving all my
Although, the corona virus has caused pain to several people, the pandemic and being
“stuck” in the house has helped me to work on my music. It has given me more time to learn
more things and hone my interests. So, I’m not particularly thankful for the lockdown, but I
have definitely tried to use it to my advantage.

Devon Packer

Devon Packer is a 15 year old pianist who lives in Montréal, Canada. He has been studying piano at the McGill Conservatory of Music since the age of 5. His first major performance was at the age of 7 when he debuted as a soloist with the Orchestre Symphonique de l’Isle playing Haydn’s “Divertimento in C Major”. He has appeared at multiple venues in Canada, Europe, and the United States. Most recently, he has performed at New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall.

Devon had his first composition published in 2015 called “The Fantastical World of Camelot”. Since then, he has composed for numerous ensembles, including a handpicked group of talented soloists, and a string ensemble. Devon also plays many instruments, including trumpet, trombone, french horn, bass, guitar, and percussion.

He has recently begun exploring the world of acting, appearing on screen as Ben Stiller’s piano prodigy son in the film Brad’s Status.

Eleanor Inn Rei Shuen

Greetings! My name is Eleanor Inn, and I am twelve-years-old, currently studying in Yamaha Music School for Trinity Grade 8. I reside in Malaysia; and have a burning passion for Music, Dance, and Writing. ‘Dear Fate’ is about the family member of a Coronavirus Victim appealing to Fate to spare his loved one’s life. Throughout the composition, the patient goes from being infected, to gradually recovering – leading the family member to gain hope, but in the end, his heart stills. The majority of citizens – especially students – have been very blase about the topic of Coronavirus – constantly joking flippantly about our friends or foes contracting the deadly virus, as we have not been affected personally by it. But this virus is no laughing matter, with over a million  deaths and thirty-five million cases worldwide; and probably more, unrecorded. As responsible citizens, we should comply with the rules-and-regulations, remain unrelenting in the measures taken against the virus, and most importantly, go the whole nine yards to guarantee your family’s safety. Best Wishes; I hope you enjoy my creation.

Isaiah Hui Zhou Rong

Isaiah Hui, 14, from Singapore, began his musical journey at the young age of 3. In 2013, Isaiah
participated in the Yamaha Piano Competition and the Singapore International Youth Piano
Competition, where he won 1st Prize for both competitions, His love for music grew over the
years and since 2011, he has been composing his own music pieces. With his composition, he
was selected to represent Singapore in 2013, 2014 and 2017 to perform in Yamaha Asia Pacific
Junior Original Concert, held in Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo respectively. He was also
selected to represent Singapore in 2015 to perform in Yamaha International Junior Original
Concert which was held in Tokyo. At American Protégé International Piano and Strings
Competition 2015, he was invited to perform in Carnegie Hall as a winner. He has also been
invited to perform in ChildAid 2014, ChildAid 2015, ChildAid Asia 2017 and ImaginAsia 2018 to
raise funds for underprivileged children.

Ishaan Leonard Rao

Ishaan Leonard Rao is a 15-year old pianist and sitarist living in New Delhi. He is the son of
world-renowned musicians, sitarist Pt Shubhendra Rao and Dutch cellist Saskia Rao-de
Haas. Since a very young age, he has gone on concert tours all over the world with his
parents and has performed at various programs with them.
Ishaan started learning the sitar and the cello at the age of 3, and the piano at the age of 6.
He currently learns piano from American pianist Raj Bhimani and Russian pianist Svetlana
Radashkevich and sitar from his father Pt. Shubhendra Rao. He made his concert debut at
the age of 9 in New Delhi. He was selected as a special performer for the 2017 ABRSM
concerts in Delhi and Lucknow and has performed internationally from 2014 onwards. In
2017, Ishaan was the youngest Indian to complete his ARSM performance diploma in piano.
The same year, Ishaan also performed a 45 minute-long program for an international jury as
a finalist in the ‘Young Musician of the Year’ award by the Olga and Jules Craen Foundation
in Mumbai as the youngest candidate selected. Ishaan performed at venues in France, India,
North America and Australia. Some of his performance highlights are the Desert Song
Festival in Alice Springs, Australia and the Chandayan music festival in New York City.
During the pandemic, Ishaan performed for India’s largest fundraising concert ‘Art Matters’
alongside leading artists of the country as well as the fundraising concert ‘Music for Hope’
with He performed for Arts organizations throughout the pandemic as a rising
star in the world of music.
Ishaan learns the finer intricacies of South Indian rhythm from master percussionist B.C.
Manjunath and follows piano, jazz, improvisation and composition classes by Greek pianist,
composer and multi-instrumentalist Dimitris Lambrianos.
Ishaan’s repertoire is as varied as his musical training. From Bach, Mozart and Beethoven to
Indian classical music to jazz standards, not to mention his own compositions, Ishaan
connects to all. With his deep understanding of different stylistic approaches to music, it is not
surprising that Ishaan started writing his own compositions at the age of 5. His approach to
music is to bridge musical traditions and to show his audiences that music knows no
boundaries: western classical, Indian classical, and contemporary music, Ishaan not only
seamlessly performs one after the other, but shows that music is one and the same universal
Ishaan also teaches piano to underprivileged children and has performed and helped to
organize the ‘Music For Children By Children’ series to promote classical music among
As a composer, Ishaan created music for the program ‘Bach to Bhupali’ at the Alliance
Francaise. Variations on Philips Glass’ Metamorphosis for piano and Indian cello, Indian
traditional devotional songs and ‘Bartok in Bangalore’ is a piece that explores a complex 9/8
in South Indian variations with a harmonic texture. He is currently studying in year 12 at the
British School in New Delhi.

Jahfari Hazelwood

Jahfari Joseph- Hazelwood is a musician and steelpan player from the island of Antigua. Music has always been an integral part of Jahfari‘s life. From an early age it was evident that he had a passion for music and was often observed transforming every item he could hold into an imaginary guitar. Unsurprisingly, he was excited to receive a ukulele on his 2nd birthday. At the age of four years, he was enrolled as a student of the Le Chateau D’or Music Academy where he was introduced to the steel pan. By the age of 6 years, he was enrolled in classical guitar and music theory lessons at the Richard Joseph Music School where he is still a student. He is now preparing for his Grade 5 Classical Guitar Practical and his Grade 6 Music Theory Examinations with the Associated Board of the Royal Schools Music (ABRSM).

He is a member of the Golden Sticks Steel Pan Ensemble, the Holy Family Cathedral Steel Orchestra, the Hells Gate Steel Orchestra and the Antigua & Barbuda Youth Symphony Orchestra (ABYSO) Junior Trumpet Program. He is a former member of the St Joseph’s Academy Rhythm Masters Steel Orchestra and was awarded the overall winner of the school’s Fine Arts Competition in 2018.

In 2019 he participated in the ABYSO summer composition workshop with the Commonwealth Resounds and was recognized for his composition piece entitled “Mori”. In November 2019, Jahfari represented Antigua in Japan for a steel pan cultural exchange program. His musical influences include his uncle Richard Joseph and mentor Khan Cordice who have both played a significant role in helping to develop his musical skills from an early age. He is currently pursuing a CAPE Associate Degree in Science at the St. Anthony’s Advanced Level Department.

Jahfari intends to continue his musical pursuits and hopes to achieve growth and maturity from each experience.

James Brew

James Brew is a 13-year-old Australian composer and musician who began composing at the age of 8 years and won his first Australian national composition competition at age 10 years with a work for solo piano called ‘Sorrowbird’. At age 11 years, he was privileged to conduct another of his compositions, ‘Starlight’ for strings, piano, recorders and tuned percussion, on the stage of the Sydney Opera House’s concert hall. In 2019, James was the first composition student ever admitted into the prestigious Rising Stars program at Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music and was a winner of the Australian National ‘Artology – Fanfare’ composition competition with his piece, ‘Jubilation’. James has sung with Sydney Children’s Choir since the age of six and loves performing with them now as a tenor. He is currently a scholarship student in Form II at Sydney Grammar School where he studies singing, tuba, pipe organ and piano as well as being an active member of his school’s composition club.

James observed that the world went into ‘panic mode’ when the COVID-19 pandemic came into full swing in March this year. Suddenly, supermarket aisles were empty, suburban streets were eerily lifeless, the people locked away with their own anxiety. (The media did not help this.) James wanted to capture this panicked state of an anxious society in a piece of music. This piece was “Pan-Xiety” and it soon found its way to the Commonwealth Composition Challenge. James is honoured that his composition has been shortlisted for this award by the Commonwealth Resounds.

Maddie Melville-Smith

My name Maddie Melville-Smith and I’m 15 years old. I absolutely love music and think that it holds so much joy and hope as well as empathy and compassion. When I was 7 started playing Alto Saxophone – often finding myself coming up with alternative melodies to those in the pieces which I was actually meant to be practising – and when I was 12 I then began composing more seriously, and since then I’ve found myself utterly obsessed with both writing my own music and also researching other composers. I live in Buckinghamshire in England and at school I really enjoy studying GCSE music and being involved in all the music clubs. I also play in a saxophone quartet, saxophone choir and wind band out of school. I am particularly inspired by Bach and Beethoven, my two favourite composers. In 2019 I was shortlisted for the BBC Proms Inspire Competition, and this year I took part in one of the Go Compose Projects run by the Commonwealth Resounds, and the Sound and Music Summer School – both of which were utterly brilliant. My dream is to be a professional composer when I’m older – how wonderful it would be to spend all day submerged in music! I think that, while this pandemic has brought great sadness for so many all over the world, it has also given each of us
the opportunity to pause and reflect on life, realising our gratitude for the various experiences in life which have made us who we are. I found myself thinking of memories which I had otherwise forgotten – and in listening to my piece I hope that others might rediscover memories of their own, and with them little parts of themselves that they didn’t remember existed.

Nathanael Koh

I am Nathanael Koh, 10 years old, from Singapore and I like music, math and chemistry and physics. My favourite music is Maurice Ravel’s Bolero and my favourite formula is the quadratic formula. I was quite upset when the pandemic happened as the whole world was affected, and concerts were all cancelled. I could not meet my friends because of the months of lockdown and I was so worried about the health of my friends and all those working at the frontlines.

Oliver Gibson

Hello, my name is Oliver Gibson. I am a student from the UK, currently in Year 12 studying
for A Levels. I began playing piano when I was 5 and trumpet when I was 8, and I now have
ABRSM grade 8 with distinction in both instruments. I spend most of my free time playing in
ensembles including brass bands, big bands and theatre pit orchestras. I studied Music at
GCSE level and achieved a grade 9 (high A*) and am now continuing music studies at A
Level. I have studied composition in music lessons at school and do some in my own time as
I would have been taking GCSE exams this year if not for COVID-19. Instead, I was at home
for six months, without being able to see any friends or family. I wanted to write this piece
to remind us that, while it does seem like a very long time to be by ourselves, it will not last
forever, and we will eventually be able to return to normal once this is over. We must also
remember that, while we are alone in isolation, there are workers and medical staff doing
incredible work to try and make this go away as quickly as they can, so to complain or to
protest would be to put down all of their efforts and hard work to save as many lives as
While I was in isolation, I was having piano lessons virtually over video call, and my teacher
decided to challenge me to write a piece where every bar or chord has a C in it, so that’s
what I did, and I think it turned out quite well. I hope you like it.

Tiara Michelle Oberoi

Tiara’s first public solo performance was at the age of five. She has since enjoyed singing and has been a music student at Harmony – The Music School, Bangalore, India. A soloist with the award winning Harmony Chorus since 2011, she has performed across Russia, England, Scotland, across India at music festivals, and on Indian national television for a reality singing competition – Rising Star on Colors TV reaching India’s Top 8. Most recently, she was honored to sing at the Global Hope Festival – an online concert featuring Classical artists from around the globe performing to raise funds for the World Health Organization’s COVID 19 Solidarity Response Fund.
In 2017, at the age of 14, Tiara won an international vocal competition and performed at Carnegie Hall, New York City. At 16 years, she became the youngest musician in India to earn an Associate Diploma from the London College of Music in Musical Theatre, also scoring the top mark. She was India’s ABRSM Grade 8 Classical Singing Examination topper for 2019.
With the Harmony Chorus, Tiara has been involved in several concerts promoting music from different cultures, singing to raise awareness on climate change, gathered funds for children with AIDS, mentally and physically challenged children, old age homes and orphanages. Through her music, she regularly supports the education of lesser privileged children. She believes in ‘Music With a Purpose’ and has used her music to entertain, educate and empower people during this pandemic.
Besides music, she has a keen interest in drama and has earned certificates from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and Bristol Vic Old Theatre School in the United Kingdom. She is a Year-12 humanities student who also coaches young singers in musical theatre and singing technique at Harmony – The Music School. In her free time, she enjoys composing choral music, playing the piano, and hockey.