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U of M student wins Aikins Memorial Trophy hours after sitting through medical school interview

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Saturday proved to be a day to remember for Matthew Packer.

The 21-year-old University of Manitoba student won his second Aikins Memorial Trophy Saturday night, just a few hours after the official grilling by U of M officials about his medical school application.

"They were equally stressful," Packer said of the two pressure-packed events.

Some might say the medical school interview was more important -- his career goal of being a doctor was on the line during the interview. But Packer is finishing his double-major degree in music performance and science this spring and holds the Aikins competition in high regard.

Also, he has been practising the Beethoven sonata he performed Saturday since September in preparation for the festival.

"The audience wants you to put on a good show," he said. "There was quite a large portion of my family out supporting me."

Even more notable about Packer's victory was that he won it while playing a different instrument this year. In 2011, he won the Aikins with his saxophone -- two years later, it was on the piano.

He began learning piano when he was eight and then picked up the sax when he enrolled in Grade 7 band class.

"I enjoy playing both," Packer said. "They're both so different, but it's still music I'm playing."

He said once he was able to learn the fundamentals of music, all he had to do was learn and practise the mechanics of an instrument to figure out how to play another one.

"I think I could play pretty well any instrument," he said, matter of factly.

The Aikins, named after Sir James Aikins, Manitoba's lieutenant-governor from 1916 to 1926, has only had one other repeat winner. Marvin Johnson shared the title with John Lemieux in 1947 and then won it outright the next year.

Packer said because he'd won the award before took some of the pressure off this time around.

"I wasn't expecting to win it a second time," he said. "I just wanted to do my best and not think about it.

"It was the icing on the cake."

Packer keeps a busy musical schedule on top of preparing for the festival. There's his course work in the music faculty, he has performed with the Winnipeg Wind Ensemble and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and also accompanies other musicians on the piano.

"I've gotten some jokes about how busy I keep myself," Packer said. "The reason I do it because I love to do these things."

He'll find out from the U of M in May if he adds medical school to his crowded calendar.

"I hope to continue to play music and performing solo and in ensemble settings," he said. "I don't think I could live without being able to perform."

Competition for the Winnipeg Music Festival's other major trophy, the Rose Bowl, which goes to the festival's top vocal performance, takes place Saturday at 7 p.m. at Westminster United Church. A gala concert featuring highlights of the festival takes place Sunday at 2 p.m. also at Westminster.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2013 C5

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