Aiden Levendofsky has been playing piano since he was five years old. His father, Scott Levendofsky, said he put a cheap keyboard in his room and did not say anything about it.

“I just put it in there,” Scott said. “A couple of days later my wife and I could hear him plunking around.”

The early introduction to piano led to Aiden, 14, winning the Kansas Music Teachers Association Honors Piano Competition in November. He performed two pieces in contrasting styles and won the 7th-8th grade division. Aiden, an eighth-grader at Manhattan Catholic School, was also the runner-up in the competition for the two previous years. Aiden said this year’s competition was a bit different.

“Normally what happens is there’s a regional competition, then the state one, and you perform from memory,” Aiden said. “If I scored a ‘1’ then I would perform at state. This year there was only the state competition, and I had to submit a video of me playing.”

Aiden said at first, he did not think he was going to be able to compete. He said there was a last-minute opening in his group, and his teacher, Sibylle Kuder was able to sign him up. Aiden said scheduling practices has been a delicate process because of spikes in local COVID-19 cases, but they have made it work.

“I’ll typically send my teacher videos and she’ll critique them,” Aiden said. “During the competition we were having in-person sessions at least once a week.”

Aiden said he has not switched to hybrid learning or distance learning at Manhattan Catholic School, which has about 20 people in his class and 275 in the school overall. That means he was able to attend class in person the entire fall semester. He said he thinks in-person learning is more relaxed and has helped him pursue the things he enjoys.

“I think I like music because I like the creativity and artistic decisions you can make with it,” Aiden said. “I also kind of like the pursuit of practicing and getting better every day; I like competitions, and having a goal to prepare for competitions is a big part of me playing piano.”

The two pieces Aiden performed for the KMTA competition were “Romanian” by Jean Sibelius, and “Etude in A-flat Major” by Frederic Chopin. Scott Levendofsky, a former band director for 20 years, said it is a treat to listen to Aiden play.

“He knows I know what he’s doing as a trained musician, but we don’t talk a lot about it,” Scott said. “He really kind of does his own thing. He plays at a level I never played at in any of those stages.”

Scott said it is slightly surreal, but he can disconnect from being a parent and just listen to Aiden as a musician.

“That’s been a good thing,” Scott said. “I’ve been able to do that as he’s gotten older, to listen with a set of ears as an audience member would.”

Aiden will be ready for high school in fall of 2021, and Scott said they have been weighing their options and looking at the gifted services offered at different schools. Aiden said he has been thinking of possibly joining a youth orchestra in high school. He also plays percussion and is highly interested in geography and spelling bees.

Aiden won the Riley County Spelling Bee this year, a regional spelling bee last year and attended the National History Bee in Chicago that summer. With the statewide spelling bee cancelled this year, Aiden said he has been participating in mock spelling bees online with other spellers nationwide.

“Honestly, I had no clue there was so many virtual bees,” Scott said. “You can pay an entry fee and it’s on Zoom. It’s all kinds of rules, but (Aiden) enjoys doing that.”

Aiden said he is not good at sitting idle.

“I think it’s good for my mental health, to be engaged in something and to pursue a goal,” Aiden said.

“It created a positive feedback loop to work toward something, and if you achieve that something, great. It’s important to keep pursuing goals and things you like… that will give you prowess and experience which will enable to you keep striving.”

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