Young Pianists Named Finalists in Inaugural Southern Maryland Regional Piano Competition

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The College of Southern Maryland and ArtLinks announced area pianists as the finalists in the first Southern Maryland Regional Piano Competition held April 4 and 5 at the college’s Prince Frederick Campus.

This year’s finalists are Elijah M. Smoot, first place; Katrina Chan, second place; Molly Jeanine Tracy, third place; and Anna Elkins, honorable mention.

Music has the ability to unite people of all cultures, wrote Chan in her entry essay on why music matters to her. “Though not everyone speaks the same language, everyone is familiar with music,” she wrote. Through events such as the Southern Maryland Regional Piano Competition (SMRPC), people around the region will become familiar with Chan and other talented musicians featured in this inaugural event.

The dream that began with the acquisition of a world-class piano for the enjoyment and benefit of residents of Southern Maryland came full circle when the competition’s finalists performed on the same program with renowned concert pianist and guest artist Jason Brown.

“Today is a vision that began four years ago—and it never played as well in my mind as it did today,” said JoAnn Kushner, SMRPC committee member and president of ArtLinks, a co-sponsor of the event. “We knew we had a number of very qualified pianists competing, and when the first player sat down for the audition and literally astonished us, we knew we had something very special here,” she said when presenting the winning awards during the closing concert.

The first place award, with a prize of $500, went to Smoot, 14, of Mechanicsville. Smoot, who is homeschooled, began playing just four years ago and began preparing for the competition last December. “This is the first year that I am really concentrating on competitions,” Smoot said, adding that he believes the secret to success in competition is “practice, practice, practice.”

“I practice two to three hours a day and up to 16 hours a week,” said Smoot, who is one of 11 musical children between the ages of 1 and 20 of Ronald and Juley Smoot. According to Patricia Blanchard, Smoot’s music instructor, “At times the piano goes 24 hours a day in their home.” She added that Elijah practiced between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. the day before the competition. “I woke up and had a burst of energy and wanted to play,” Elijah said.

The second-place award, with a prize of $250, went to Chan, 16, of Great Mills, who attends Great Mills High School. Chan has been studying music for 11 years and plays piano and violin. Last spring she won third-place honors at the Maryland State Spring Festival at the University of Maryland.

Tracy, 14, of Hollywood, who attends Great Mills High School, received the third-place award and a $100 prize. Elkins, 14, of Owings, a freshman at Northern High School, received honorable mention.

“Very special congratulations go to our Southern Maryland Regional Competition prize winners on their achievement,” said Donna Wayson, SMRPC chair. “You have set the bar very high for future competitions.”

After the three finalists performed Chopin, Beethoven, Tcherepnin and Debussy for family, friends and the public, guest artist Brown said, “It's so rewarding to watch you guys. This type of event has great networking  opportunities—getting to connect with college professors to schedule extra lessons or to get coaching, that can lead to theater projects, writing film scores and so much more. This is just the beginning of limitless opportunities for you,” said Brown, who as a former recipient of a Van Cliburn scholarship to Baylor University has built his varied career through networking, where one musical experience fanned into multiple genres and opportunities.

A composer as well as a performer, Brown played a lively original composition he wrote for his grandmother, Angel. “I almost forgot what a beautiful instrument you have at this college,” Brown said of the Bösendorfer grand piano presented to CSM as a gift in memory of Ward Virts. Addressing the young pianists, he added, “Don't take for granted that every college has one of these,” he said of the grand piano. “They don't!”

            The piano was gifted to the community by the Ward Virts Piano Project Group as a tribute to the late Virts, a talented concert trained pianist who grew up in Southern Maryland and who died in 1993. After acquiring the concert-quality Bösendorfer for a concert series, the competition was the next natural outgrowth, according to Wayson. “It took us several years to find the right format and to expand the project as a way to reach out and encourage young people,” she said.      

            “The college shares a deep commitment to foster the arts and support such education in our community,” said CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried. “Now more than ever, we recognize the need for embracing the arts—music enriches our lives, uplifts our spirits and rejuvenates hope at a time when negative news seems to dominate our world. But in the words of our finalist pianists shared in their entry essays, music is a unifying expression of emotions, it creates memories and matters because it brings people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds together. It’s a way to communicate when words can’t, and it brings joy,” Gottfried said.

 “This competition has been a great environment to cultivate relationships between the college and our music community, including the area’s private music teachers, school music teachers as well as these talented, young musicians. Since we historically have concentrated our music curriculum in Charles County, this particularly has enabled us to expand our arts program for Calvert and St. Mary’s communities to enjoy,” said CSM Professor Stephen Johnson, who also served as a member of the piano competition committee.

Currently, competitions available to local music students are events organized by their county music teachers’ association or the statewide competitions, according to Blanchard, who is a piano instructor to the top two finalists. “This event provides another opportunity for students,” she said, adding that it is an opportunity for students to show off their beautiful musicianship and to add their own interpretation and sparkling touch to the pieces they play.

             “Competitions provide great exposure for kids; whether they win or lose it can help them develop stage presence,” said Brown. “Competitions, like this, are a great way for kids to have a goal and to feel that they can excel,” Brown added.

            Students participating in the competition were: Ruth Alonzo of Lexington Park who attends A Beka Academy, Leah A. Blackstone of Brandywine who attends SPEAR Academy, Caitlin Carey of Huntingtown who attends The Calverton School, Rachel S. Ellis of Indian Head who attends SPEAR Academy, Karen S. Jung of Hollywood who attends Leonardtown High School, Eumi Pok of Hollywood who attends Leonardtown High School, Caroline E. Richards of La Plata who attends La Plata High School, Jessica Ryan of Lexington Park who attends A Beka Academy, Samantha L. Tillery of La Plata who attends La Plata High School and Jacklyn Wong of Tall Timbers who attends St. Mary’s Ryken.

            Gottfried also acknowledged the support of the programs benefactors, patrons and sponsors. Benefactors included Mark R. Frazer, DDS; JoAnn and Mark Kushner, and Donna Wayson. Patrons included Joy Bartholomew, Ann and Henry Trentman, and Dave Wayson State Farm Insurance.

            For information on the SMRPC, visit www.csmd.edu/SoMdPianoCompetition.     For information on CSM’s free Ward Virts Concert Series which features the Bösendorfer piano at the Prince Frederick Campus or the free Twilight Performance Series to be held Tuesday through Thursday evenings throughout July at the various campuses, visit www.csmd.edu/FineArts.     

           

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