Persistence, faith align in music competition award for Manahawkin student

April 3, 2024 at 1:45 p.m.
Third-grader Kotryna Vaivilavicius performs in Carnegie Hall in the Elite International Music Competition. Courtesy photo
Third-grader Kotryna Vaivilavicius performs in Carnegie Hall in the Elite International Music Competition. Courtesy photo

By EMMALEE ITALIA
Contributing Editor

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” the old joke begins. “Practice, practice, practice!” And 8-year-old Kotryna Vaivilavicius did just that, eventually earning herself a first-place age category finish in the Elite International Music Competition March 10.

“It was amazing and also a relief that I got done with it,” reflected the third grader from St. Mary Academy, Manahawkin. “I was pretty nervous because I didn’t know how things would go.”

Understandable, as this performance in New York’s Carnegie Hall was her first piano competition, said her mother, Loreta Garretson. “We had no expectations.”

Kotryna Vaivilavicius poses with her first-place age category award. Courtesy photo

‘Me and the piano’

But Kotryna — who has only been playing the piano since October 2022 — accepted the challenge assigned by her piano teacher, Violeta Kundrotiene, and wowed the judges with “Sonatina in A Minor” by J. Antonin Benda.

“It wasn’t so tricky” to focus, she said, “because I blocked all the people and just said to myself, ‘me and the piano.’ What I like most about my piece is that it’s hard, and I like hard stuff.”

“We can’t thank [God] enough for Ms. Violeta Kundrotiene in our lives,” her mother emphasized. She believes Kotryna had an affinity for music even before birth, listening from the womb to her older brother Povilas’ piano lessons.

“The day my husband and I went to the hospital for labor for Kotryna, our son was playing ‘River Flows in You’ by Yiruma as a good-bye and good luck,” she remembered. “Guess what she begged her teacher to teach her a few days ago — ‘River Flows in You!’”

Kotryna’s younger sister Julia, second grader at St. Mary Academy, also plans to play in next year’s Elite International Music Competition.

Kotryna plays mostly classical music and, to her mother’s delight, is interested in playing music by Lithuanian composer Balys Dvarionas as well, since “Lithuania is where our roots are.”

A good work ethic

Experiencing life as a young child under Soviet occupation, with religion prohibited and atheism promoted on state television, Garretson is profoundly grateful for her family to be able to practice their faith.

“It is such a joy for all my children to be in Catholic school,” she said. “Every child is a letter from God; we just need to learn how to read it, let their talents unfold.”

Garretson, whose family belongs to St. Mary of the Pines Parish, Manahawkin, likened music to another language that incorporates math via rhythm. “But most importantly it develops (a) good work ethic. Kotryna knows that if she doesn’t practice at least an hour daily, she will not achieve the results that she wants. … Nothing is impossible with sincere, hard work and love combined.”

Kotryna now practices without reminders, said Garretson, who believes a child playing music is true worship of God.

“It is like a statement: ‘Father, I found what you gave me, let me spread the joy, harmony, beauty and your will,’” said Garretson.

“I think God is happy and proud of me that I came this far,” Kotryna said.

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support.


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“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” the old joke begins. “Practice, practice, practice!” And 8-year-old Kotryna Vaivilavicius did just that, eventually earning herself a first-place age category finish in the Elite International Music Competition March 10.

“It was amazing and also a relief that I got done with it,” reflected the third grader from St. Mary Academy, Manahawkin. “I was pretty nervous because I didn’t know how things would go.”

Understandable, as this performance in New York’s Carnegie Hall was her first piano competition, said her mother, Loreta Garretson. “We had no expectations.”

Kotryna Vaivilavicius poses with her first-place age category award. Courtesy photo

‘Me and the piano’

But Kotryna — who has only been playing the piano since October 2022 — accepted the challenge assigned by her piano teacher, Violeta Kundrotiene, and wowed the judges with “Sonatina in A Minor” by J. Antonin Benda.

“It wasn’t so tricky” to focus, she said, “because I blocked all the people and just said to myself, ‘me and the piano.’ What I like most about my piece is that it’s hard, and I like hard stuff.”

“We can’t thank [God] enough for Ms. Violeta Kundrotiene in our lives,” her mother emphasized. She believes Kotryna had an affinity for music even before birth, listening from the womb to her older brother Povilas’ piano lessons.

“The day my husband and I went to the hospital for labor for Kotryna, our son was playing ‘River Flows in You’ by Yiruma as a good-bye and good luck,” she remembered. “Guess what she begged her teacher to teach her a few days ago — ‘River Flows in You!’”

Kotryna’s younger sister Julia, second grader at St. Mary Academy, also plans to play in next year’s Elite International Music Competition.

Kotryna plays mostly classical music and, to her mother’s delight, is interested in playing music by Lithuanian composer Balys Dvarionas as well, since “Lithuania is where our roots are.”

A good work ethic

Experiencing life as a young child under Soviet occupation, with religion prohibited and atheism promoted on state television, Garretson is profoundly grateful for her family to be able to practice their faith.

“It is such a joy for all my children to be in Catholic school,” she said. “Every child is a letter from God; we just need to learn how to read it, let their talents unfold.”

Garretson, whose family belongs to St. Mary of the Pines Parish, Manahawkin, likened music to another language that incorporates math via rhythm. “But most importantly it develops (a) good work ethic. Kotryna knows that if she doesn’t practice at least an hour daily, she will not achieve the results that she wants. … Nothing is impossible with sincere, hard work and love combined.”

Kotryna now practices without reminders, said Garretson, who believes a child playing music is true worship of God.

“It is like a statement: ‘Father, I found what you gave me, let me spread the joy, harmony, beauty and your will,’” said Garretson.

“I think God is happy and proud of me that I came this far,” Kotryna said.

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support.

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