Royal Vale student wins Commonwealth Competition grand prize

Devon Packer, a Secondary V student at Royal Vale School in NDG, won this year’s Commonwealth International Composition Award (CICA) grand prize. He was chosen by Commonwealth Resounds, whose mission is to connect musical cultures and promote initiatives and partnerships in Commonwealth countries.

The 16-year-old pianist has been at Royal Vale since kindergarten and began studying piano at the McGill Conservatory of Music when he was five years old. His first major performance came at the age of seven, when he made his debut as a soloist with the Orchester symphonique de l’Isle, playing Haydn’s “Divertimento in C Major”. He has performed in numerous venues in Canada, Europe and the United States, including the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York.

Devon is also an accomplished arranger and composer. He had his first composition, “The Fantasy World of Camelot”, published in 2015 when he was 10 years old. Since then, he has participated in the Online Composition Academy of the Purcell School, which offers training to young people from all over the world. He has written for many ensembles, including the Ensemble Dionysos. In 2021 alone, he was shortlisted for two international composition competitions, being the only finalist to represent Canada in both. In May 2021, he won the Commonwealth International Composition Award Young Adjudicator’s Award for his composition “Oceania”. In addition, in 2021, he received a special mention at the ICCA Grand Final.

“This award means the world to me!” said Devon. “It’s a huge honor and validation of all the hard work I’ve put into developing my own songwriting voice.”

What are his plans for the future? “I plan to continue composing!” he says. “If other opportunities arise in this wonderful competition, I will wholeheartedly embrace them and dive right into them. There are definitely a number of things I want to explore over the coming summer, like different instrumentation and forms of composition. I also want to work on my idiomatic writing; that is, writing songs that play well on the instruments I write them for. Apart from that, I will continue my piano studies, while exploring the world of percussion.

In terms of how composing music has been such an important part of his life, Devon notes, “I’ve been composing casually for about six years. I remember

one of the first songs I wrote came from piano improvisations, and I just had to write it! Since then, I have honed my craft, from improvisations to fully planned theme development. Until recently, I mainly focused on the piano, but I really had the chance to develop my composition skills when the quarantine started, which led to the cancellation of live performances. It allowed me to focus on the world of composition, because composition is an art that can be practiced in isolation.

Devon will now prepare to perform one of his works for the Grand premiere of future stars, which will take place next June at Place des Arts. “I’ll be at the piano,” he explained, “accompanying a professional soprano, performing ‘The Dragon-Fly,’ based on a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I’m super excited for this incredible opportunity to present my compositions to a live audience for the first time in two years!

You can listen to his winning composition here:

About the English Montreal School Board

With a population of over 35,000 students in the youth and adult sector, the English-Montreal School Board (EMSB) is the largest English-speaking public school board in Quebec. Established on July 1, 1998, when the province created new boards based on linguistic criteria, the EMSB network has 77 schools and centres. For more details, visit the EMSB website at

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