Every year, the Music Teachers National Association invites outstanding young musicians to showcase their talents in state and regional meetings. Closer to home, the Central Florida chapter invited the top five students from each county to perform at this year’s annual gathering March 27. Four of Volusia County’s winners are students of Port Orange’s Charles Combopiano, and this year’s journey was no cakewalk.

As a senior citizen, Combopiano, like so many others, made the difficult decision to stop teaching in his home due to the pandemic. Although it took quite a while for teacher and students (and their families) to build and settle into a workable remote teaching routine, through creativity, trial and error, frustration, anxiety and lots of dedication and hard work (and technology!), these four remarkable young students won the top four spots in Volusia County and advanced to the district: 

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Arian Toutounchian, 11, who has also branched out into Iranian music, performed the “Minute Waltz” by Frederic Chopin. 

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Dev Halpern, 12, performed Mozart’s “Sonata in C Major.” 

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Amaris Davis, 13, who is in her second year of lessons, performed Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.” Amaris’ mother bought her a book of Joplin’s music when she developed a strong affinity for the composer during a school project on Joplin and his career. Though it was quite a stretch goal, she and Combopiano agreed that if she made sufficient progress, she would perform the “Maple Leaf Rag” (one of the more challenging and rewarding Joplin compositions) for the competition. Obviously she rose to the occasion. 

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Kendall Williams, 15, performed the “Etude in E Major,” also by Chopin. Both of Kendall’s parents are local professional musicians, with recordings and tours on their résumé. In addition to becoming an accomplished classical pianist, Kendall is also in the top jazz ensemble at Spruce Creek High School, started her own jazz ensemble, and has also become an award-winning flutist.

The Volusia County Music Teachers Association (VCMTA), which is affiliated with the Music Teachers National Association, is a nonprofit organization with chapters throughout the country, and is open to any and all interested private teachers of all instruments. It offers conferences, workshops and lectures by prominent musicians and teachers, as well as opportunities for members to communicate in roundtable discussions at which ideas for improvements in teaching methods and performance practices are shared.

The local chapter also supports students by offering music scholarships, and solo, ensemble and concerto competitions. The association also offers two annual student recitals (normally held at Stetson University) that are open to the public. More information about the VCMTA can be found at https://www.vcmta.org.