A&E » Music

Whistler pianist Wetaski owns the podium

Grade 12 student earns three gold rankings, two scholarships at Howe Sound Music Festival



After 13 years of practice, you would expect Whistler Secondary School (WSS) student Charles Wetaski to be a good piano player, but he went beyond that last week, receiving three gold awards at the Howe Sound Music Festival.

"I'm pretty comfortable with the festival because I've done it almost every year since I was five," he says.

"Preparing for it is pretty rigorous, playing the same pieces over and over and going through it."

He performed Bach's Prelude and Fugue in B major, Schubert's Impromptu in A flat major and Rachmaninoff's Elegy — and won gold for each performance.

Wetaski, an 18-year-old Grade 12 student, is also bringing home two scholarships worth $75 each from the Squamish festival for being named Most Promising Performer and Best Piano Open.

Gold is presented to students receiving 86 per cent or higher from adjudicators at the festival, which took place in Squamish from April 11 to 17.

"At the festival they try to get songs out of you that are as diverse as possible," Wetaski says.

He took piano lessons with Heidi Macpherson in Whistler until last year, and switched to Erik Musseau in Squamish after Macpherson moved. He currently practices five to six hours per week.

While there is not a big band program at WSS, Wetaski was part of the performance in the school's production of The Outsiders earlier this year. He and friends formed a band to perform 1960s rock during the play, and they have decided to keep going.

"It's really different than preparing for a classical piece because with the band it's not about being as expressive as possible and the same thing you look for in a classical piece," Wetaski says.

So while he won't be studying music in university — engineering won out — he plans to keep going in the band in other ways, recruiting a singer and playing music as diverse as Ben E. King and Arcade Fire.

"We're still going to play together after. We are playing at the grad's fashion show (April 20) and at our own prom for a little bit," he says.

"We're recycling some of the pieces from the play because none of us were able to practice for the fashion show."

Hayley Read, the executive director of the Howe Sound Music Festival, says what Wetaski accomplished was remarkable.

"It's quite a feat and accomplishment for a student to get to Grade 10 in piano instruction, not many do, and then perform three different pieces for adjudication and get gold," she says.

"Charles and his parents have shown tremendous commitment. He has been part of the festival for the past 10 years."

Read said that over 160 young musicians registered this year. One interesting point was that in 2015, 60 piano players registered and this year it was 90.

This year was the first time the festival expanded beyond voice and piano to include other instrumental classes, which includes stringed, wind and brass instruments. Read says they hope to grow this new category next year.

For more information visit www.musicfestivalweb.com/hsmf/default.aspx.