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JAMAICAN PIANIST SCORES 100

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Young pianist soars with a perfect 100: James
In January, while the media focus on Jamaican youth was all about violence, Rashaan Allwood was out stunning the world of classical music.
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RICHARD LAUTENS / TORONTO STAR
At 18, Rashaan Allwood, pictured in his parents’ living room in Mississauga, is already a piano phenom. The first-year U of T music student recently added a National Gold Medal from the Royal Conservatory for scoring 100 points on piano performance in January, the tops in Canada. He also won 3 categories at the Kiwanis music competition last week.

By: Royson James City Columnist, Published on Tue Mar 05 2013
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Even for a rare piano talent who has won medals at every level since 2002, this performance at the highest level of the Royal Conservatory was astonishing.
Rashaan Allwood, 18, played through a one-hour piano exam of baroque, classical, romantic, impressionist and 20th century music with such panache and precision that enthralled adjudicators gave him a perfect score.
Allwood’s “perfect 100” set the music fraternity abuzz in January, when he received the national gold medal as Canada’s top student sitting an exam for the world-renowned Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto (ARCT) diploma.
The first-year University of Toronto piano performance student even surprised himself with what a conservatory spokesman calls a “very, very, very rare” achievement.
“When I saw the score I didn’t believe it, so I called them to confirm it,” Allwood told the Star. “It seemed unfathomable.”
The conservatory, which holds 100,000 exams a year, confirmed his brilliance.
“It felt really, really amazing,” said the Mississauga resident. “I think they were saying, ‘You have the potential to be really, really good. This is our way of giving you a boost.’ It’s something to encourage me to work even harder than before; not to be cocky.”
The honour confirmed everything Filmore Allwood and wife Joyce envisioned for their son, and brother Yannick, since the parents immigrated here from Jamaica.
Be a strong dad. Watch over the children like a hawk. Provide unstinting support. Set high goals. Watch them soar.
But even as Rashaan received his gold medal at Koerner Hall on Bloor St., on Jan. 13, a new wave of gun crime was about to wash over the GTA — eclipsing the achievement of the majority of black youth, amazing ones like Rashaan’s, and the everyday success of the majority of others.
“I am hoping this will make an impact on the youths of our community, to inspire them to achieve to be the best in whatever they want to be,” the dad wrote in an email late January, requesting news coverage.
Most media were preoccupied with the shooting death of 15-year-old Tyson Bailey on Jan. 18, Kesean Williams, 9, five days later; and St. Aubyn Rodney, 15, on Feb. 11.
By the end of February, Dad had given up.
“I fully understand the situation,” he wrote. “This would have been recognized as news if my son was involved in crime or drugs. Then we wouldn’t have enough room on our driveway for cameras and journalists.
“I guess my son has found himself in a field where ‘he does not belong’ because of his ethnicity (he is not white or Asian).”
The words cut, with a ring of truth.
Pulling away from the daily dose of Rob Ford nonsense, I attended Rashaan’s performance at the 70th annual Toronto Kiwanis Music Festival last week. He entered three categories: Chopin, Bach and Beethoven. He won them all.
“One step above everyone,” was just one of many accolades delivered by adjudicator, acclaimed pianist Jean Desmarais.
Rashaan’s performance of Chopin’s Fantasy in F Minor broke new ground, Desmarais said. He had never envisioned the composition could be played that way but, not only did Rashaan do it, he “convinced me.”
“He’s going to be a star,” said audience member Ann Luu, watching the Kiwanis performance with more than casual interest. She’d donated a scholarship to the winner and was ecstatic at what she’d heard.
Rashaan and Yannick started piano lessons about 12 years ago. (Yannick is studying piano performance and actuarial science at University of Western Ontario. Rashaan received a full scholarship and wants to become a concert pianist and music teacher.)
Teacher Anna Fomina has taught hundreds of students in Moscow and the Mississauga School of Music over 40 years. “Rashaan is the most talented,” she says.
He lives the music, embodies it and makes it his own. And he’s not afraid to capture the emotion of a composition and deliver it to the heart of the listener.
“Most students have talent, but they understand the music with their head so they play like a computer, a machine; Rashaan feels with his heart, so he touches people’s hearts,” says Fomina.
Rashaan credits this to the effort he takes to understanding what the composer was going through as he created the music. The technical skills honed over a grueling practice regimen — he’s at U of T at 7 a.m. most days and doesn’t get home till late — are important in that they allow him the freedom to inhabit the musical score without being distracted by technical obstacles.
His gold medal performance demanded he play five works of contrasting styles. For an hour he played Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel and Prokofiev, plus Russian composer Moszkowski.
The two adjudicators thanked him for his “uninterrupted excitement” and “virtuosic fluency.”
“Your abundant musical talent allowed you to surpass the technical and musical challenges which were presented to you in this very fine, challenging program. We enjoyed hearing you and wish you the best in your continued studies.”
Fomina says Rashaan’s achievements are at least 50 per cent his father’s doing.
He often sits through Rashaan’s lessons. He would hear what Fomina demanded of Rashaan and reinforce it at home. Most parents expect the one hour of music lesson to create genius. Rashaan’s dad didn’t leave it to the teacher — not with a musical discipline that is more demanding than regular homework from school, she says.
He surrounded him with all kinds of music, including European classical recordings — a fact that helped him develop an appreciation for all kinds of music and a love of Bach.
Not surprisingly, Filmore Allwood has lots to say about rearing children and what it takes to keep them out of trouble and away from the influences of the street.
One key solution to street violence “comes right back to parenthood,” he says. “You pay attention and see the kid is volunteering and excelling. You have to be there, help the child, make sure he’s involved in community service, learns to respect his peers, relatives and friends.
“If you don’t have those things and teach the child, you will have problems. The child must be able to express himself, have a conversation. And the best place to have a good conversation is at the dinner table. You have to make sure you have something to impart every day. You can’t stop. So, when the child goes out, he will remember what the parent said and that will prevent him from doing bad things.
“They go to school and hear hundreds of things and many voices, including their peers. Where is your voice?
“You have to give it when they wake up and when they go to sleep. If you don’t, you have the problems we have on the streets. Go to any parent whose kids are doing good — see how much effort they put into it.”
And, he says, institutions like the church must step into the gap where parents are missing.
Rashaan and his brother found their early love for music in the church. Both played roles as Young Simba in the Mirvish production of Lion King. Rashaan plays at numerous community events with his jazz band. And he’s adopted a school in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, sending money he earned from awards to repair the school.
With a strong sense of his identity, Rashaan says he is not deterred by the lack of African-Canadians in his music circle.
“You don’t usually see them in competition. People are surprised to see me doing well, because it’s not something black people really do.
“It feels good because, really, it doesn’t matter what colour your skin is. Music is music. You don’t have to be Russian or German or Italian or Asian to do classical music. It comes from the soul. It all comes from the soul, and we all have a soul.”
Royson James usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: [email protected]

11 Responses to JAMAICAN PIANIST SCORES 100

  • Cindy Royal says:

    :2thumbup

  • Jules says:

    I am so loving this story. Hopefully he plays at the Symphony one of these days and I can hear him live. Brilliant young man! I wish him all the bounties of goodness life has to offer for his future

  • kia NUNYABIZNIZ bubblez says:

    good job young man!!! proud a yu :)

  • sweet says:

    I AM SO PROUD AND HE IS NOT EVEN MY CHILD, WELL DONE TO THIS YOUNG MAN.

  • LadyWoW says:

    THIS IS NICE GOOD JOB!!!

  • sexillisha says:

    i actually got teary eyed when reading this. This is the type of publicity i like to see shine on my fellow jamaicans as for his parents especially the father it is always lovely to see a father influence his sons life in such a positive way.

    i totally agree with him kids get influenced everyday from all types of situations its up to parents to lead them in the right direction parents need to stop allowing these kids to raise themselves and step in and be a true parent to your child.

  • Tawkchuet says:

    Good man bravo very proud of him

  • Foxy says:

    Rock on young man!

  • Too much says:

    Big up Rashan. Im so happy when we excel at the most unexpected things and mi go mi old Univisity too…..no man Rashan u ah Gwan wid tingss

  • deme says:

    Congratulations to Rashaan Allwood for a job well done and to his parents also for nurturing his gift . I love Baroque music. My 14 month old loves it, too. He love all the emphasis in the music.

    p.s. It’s so disappointing to know that this young boy lives in the same city (Mississauga) as me and this is the first I’ve heard about him or his accomplishment. Maybe he will be in the Mississauga news this weekend.

  • Anonymous says:

    Bless up!!!!

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