After boycotting competitions and contests for numerous reasons, I succumbed to a few in recent years. My students seem to enjoy the process just as much as the actual event and I do see substantial progress in skills thanks to their determination to do their best.
This past May, The Festival for Creative Pianists was held in Denver. The festival celebrating creativity at the keys was founded by Dr. Arthur Houle and is assisted by Project Director, Evelyn Billberg. As timing would have it, only one of my students could enter this year. You know what the month of May is like!
Several facets of this festival intrigued me:
~Each participant was given a 15-minute audition time which could be filled with just about anything the pianist could dream up–no kidding.
~The esteemed judges are incredible and creative artists themselves and presented a concert during the festival. Learn more about one of the regular judges, John Salmon, here. Luke Rackers adjudicated the compositions and promises to publish the winning original composition at his publishing company Abundant Silence.
~Numerous prizes were awarded for various categories including most versatile pianist, best performance of a contemporary piece and many more. Follow this link for all the unique and always-expanding prize categories.
~John Salmon’s quote:
“This festival is part of a growing movement whose battle cry is to loosen the strictures of perfectionism and literalism that have gradually eviscerated the interpreter’s art in this age of ‘note-perfect’ recordings and competitions, and to re-emphasize the beautiful, the imaginative.”
~The festival wrapped up with an awards ceremony, pictures of the 30 contestants and a recital featuring the piece deemed “best of set” by the adjudicators. This recital was an exceptional treat as it was anything but typical. From one improvising on a theme assigned by the judges immediately prior to the performance, to a host of original compositions, Dr. Houle jazzy originals, improvised duets, pieces by female composers, a Mozart concerto, transcriptions and more, there was something to please any musical taste.
~Auditions based on each participant’s free choice and a final recital celebrating the selection that “rose to the top” gave us a sneak peek inside the true musical soul of each pianist. The level of playing was astounding and inspiring.
The experience prompted some SOAPBOX thoughts:
- More events like The Festival for Creative Pianists celebrating creativity at the keys should be held regularly at the national, regional, local and studio level, too. If you haven’t already, it’s time to seek out opportunities to challenge your students’ musicality beyond the page not to mention yours. Check out the details of the extremely well-organized Festival Creative Pianist here. Rumor has it, that the event will be held in Utah next year. Stay tuned.
- What I’ve noticed in the years since I’ve become less attached to the page is that I find more satisfaction in my time at the piano. It seems this affinity rubbed off on a number of my students as I literally needed to shut down a recent recital. So many wanted to keep playing.
- Although the festival was ripe with creativity, there was still room for development in specific styles. My 12-year-old student Rylan created a Sinatra medley with a touch of jazz and latin styles. Most other improvisations and compositions leaned towards a more classical or free-form genre.
Below is a video of Rylan’s performance of his original arrangement at the final recital. I sat in on his open-to-the-public audition and watched the judges smile as he pulled out his Sinatra tunes. I was not surprised they chose his arrangement as Rylan’s best. His stylized performance is credited to his unique imagination at the keys raised in a home of Sinatra fans AND a result of his attendance at 88 Creative Keys Camp over the past two years. His teacher’s exposure to the wisdom of Bradley Sowash played an essential role as well.
I know you’ve heard me plug it before and I’ll do it again because I truly believe in our 88 Creative Keys Camp. The initial investment will expand your teaching and your playing exponentially. Years of unbridled creativity and FUN at the keys await you and your students.