Guest performer Russell Wilson, a keyboardist for The Presidents Own U.S. Marine Band, stands with finalists in the 2nd Annual Southern Maryland Regional Piano Competition, from left Christina Smith of Park Hall, second place; Jessica Ryan of Park Hall, honorable mention; Katrina Chan of Lexington Park, third place; and Ruth Alonzo of Park Hall, first place. (Submitted photo)
LA PLATA, Md. (May 12, 2010)—This year's finalists in the second Southern Maryland Regional Piano Competition (SMRPC) are Ruth Alonzo of Park Hall, first place; Christina Smith of Park Hall, second place; Katrina Chan of Lexington Park, third place; and Jessica Ryan of Park Hall, honorable mention. The event was held April 24 and 25 at the College of Southern Maryland's Prince Frederick Campus.
"Piano performance is both a personal and public activity," said SMRPC Chair Donna Wayson, adding that what this year's contestants wrote about their connections to music demonstrated their passion for their art.
"Music is an art that appeals to the mind as well as the heart-it is a way to connect the past with the present, a way for the imagination to take flight," wrote Smith.
In its second year, the competition has also taken flight, creating opportunities for area high school students to gain experience performing in competition and to play on a world-class Bösendorfer piano.
"Congratulations to the winners, and, to those who weren't finalists: don't become bitter; become better," said SMRPC guest performer Gunnery Sergeant Russell Wilson who is a keyboardist for The President's Own U.S. Marine Band. "You are not going to win them all, but keep pushing yourself."
This year's contestants included Gabrielle Crofford, 16, of Mechanicsville; Karen Jung, 16, Stephanie Miller, 15, and Molly Tracy, 15, of Hollywood; Andrea Prevatt, 14, of Park Hall; Trinity Story, 16, of La Plata; and Chad Baker, 16, of Prince Frederick.
The best piece of advice Wilson gives young musicians is to find someone who is doing what you dream of doing, and then ask them what you need to do to have that career. The advice that led Wilson to his dream job works for careers outside of music, too.
Wilson, who grew up in Clinton and attended Surrattsville High School, spent a lot of time practicing duets for competitions at a friend's home while he was in high school. "My friend's parents were both professional musicians in the Air Force Band and they had a nice home with a nice piano and a nice video game system," said Wilson. "I looked at them and said that's what I want to do, that's the life I want to have."
The idea stayed with him when the Marine Corps recruiter came to his high school and the idea was still with him when he was a freshman piano major at the University of Maryland.
"I began investigating a job I wanted," said Wilson. "I called up a guy who had that job and asked 'What should I be doing as a piano major in college to get this job one day?'"
"He told me everything I should do-sight read, accompany singers and to get my jazz up to snuff," Wilson said. Master Gunnery Sergeant Bob Boguslaw, the section leader of piano, harp, guitar, bass and singers for The President's Own, told Wilson to learn as much jazz as he could and to get books and learn songs-he did. He told Wilson to play in jazz combos-he did. He told Wilson to play in Big Bands-he did. And, Wilson played classical piano in his college classes.
Now, Boguslaw, the guy Wilson grilled for career information, is his supervisor.
The message of persistence is one that Wilson wants to share with students competing in SMRPC.
Wilson began playing piano around the time he was in second grade. "My parents wanted my two older sisters and me to try different things," Wilson said. He tried gymnastics while his sisters tried ballet. They all tried piano, but, according to Wilson, his sisters hated it. "I didn't love it at first, but I warmed up to it."
In middle school Wilson stepped in for the piano player at his church. It was supposed to be a temporary thing-but lasted 12 years. "That was an important step for me," said Wilson. "I grew through the humility of making mistakes in front of people." He had only been playing piano for five years when he took the job, and after a few episodes of having to catch up with the hymn-singing congregation during the chorus, he found his rhythm.
Wilson's piano teacher entered him in competitions. "Year after year after year, I would lose in the solo competition-but with my friend, I would win the duet competition every year. Then in my high school years, the win-lose ratio in the solo competition improved."
In high school Wilson was further encouraged when a group of guys who had never taken lessons played R&B and got positive reactions from fellow students. "I can do that," Wilson said. "I should be able to play anything, since I've been taking lessons."
Wilson's belief in his ability to play anything is tested often in his White House gig. "At a recent dinner for a Pakistani ambassador, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Adm. Mike Mullen asked that I play Pakistani music," said Wilson. "It was a little out of my realm." He has also been called on to play Greek music at the White House. "I'm learning to play the accordion," said Wilson, "to give the music a more authentic sound."
Following the performances by this year's high school finalists, Wilson performed "Arkansas Blues" by James P. Johnson from the 1920s.
The SMRPC for high school students from Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties, provides pianists an opportunity to have face time with a professional musician and to perform on the college's world class Bösendorfer grand piano, a gift to the community by the Ward Virts Piano Project Group as a tribute to the late Ward Virts, a talented concert trained pianist from the region who died in 1993.
"I had two of last year's finalists performing for me at my welcome reception last June, so I know the quality of the musicians we have here today," said CSM Dean of the Prince Frederick Campus Dr. Richard Fleming.
"Thank you for sharing yourselves and your music with us. We look forward to hearing much more from you in the future," said Master of Ceremonies for the event, Dr. Stephen Johnson, CSM professor of music, who encouraged all students who were not finalists to come back next year.
"It is a real privilege to participate in this with the College of Southern Maryland and to see all the hard work and dedication that the students bring to the competition," said ArtLinks President JoAnn Kushner.
The event was sponsored by the College of Southern Maryland and ArtLinks, with support provided by Patrons JoAnn and Mark Kushner, and Wayson; Supporters Ann and Henry Trentman, and Mark R. Frazer, D.D.S., and Friends Joy Bartholomew, Mary Anne Harms, Dr. Robert Schlager and Tess Scannell, and Dr. Sheldon Goldberg and Ramona Crowley.
For more information on the competition, visit www.csmd.edu/SoMdPianoCompetition.