High School Pianists Named Finalists in 3rd Southern Maryland Piano Competition

The College of Southern Maryland and ArtLinks announced area pianists as the finalists in the third Southern Maryland Regional Piano Competition (SMRPC) held April 16 and 17 at the college’s Prince Frederick Campus

Job Michael Smoot Earns First Place

The College of Southern Maryland and ArtLinks announced the finalists in the third Southern Maryland Regional Piano Competition (SMRPC) held April 16 and 17 at the college’s Prince Frederick Campus.

This year’s finalists are Job Michael Smoot, 15, of Great Mills, first place; Jessica Rochelle Ryan, 18, second place; Christina M. Smith, 15, third place; and Jenifer Dillow, 17, honorable mention, all of Lexington Park.  

           Following the finalists’ performance concert, SMRPC Committee Member JoAnn Kushner told students that although she knew preparing for their performances wasn’t easy, she hoped it had been a labor of love. “The acquisition of excellence is said to take 10,000 hours whether you’re training to be a world-class athlete or a physician,” said Kushner. “So when people are referring to the hours of practice, I hope you’re not counting.  We all know it takes a significant amount of dedication and all I can say is it was well demonstrated today.”

The pianists in their event registration essays did not write about long hours practicing—they wrote about the joy that music has brought to their lives and how they want to share their happiness through their music.

            “I try to create music that I and my listeners can enjoy,” wrote Smoot, who has been studying piano for four years and plays for his church. “I want people to enjoy my music but also I want to send a clear message to them,” he said, adding that communicating through music takes practice and lots of hard work.

            “Music matters to me because it brings joy to my soul,” wrote Ryan. “If I’m angry or sad, it cheers me up and it can cheer anyone up.”

           Dr. Sheldon Goldberg, a surgeon and director of the Center for Breast Care at Calvert Memorial Hospital, performed as a guest artist with the finalists at the April 17 concert. “I wanted to be a pianist—not as a job and not for a living,” he said. “The truth is that most people can’t be professional musicians but that doesn’t mean that music can’t be a big part of your life. There is so much that music can do for your life.”

            Goldberg, who grew up in Washington, said his neighborhood piano teacher with whom he had studied since third grade could see that his interest in piano was waning as he entered high school. “I don’t think you should let him stop,” Goldberg recalls his teacher telling his parents. During his first meeting with new instructor Eddie Dimond, a pianist who frequented the original Bayou in Georgetown accompanying Dizzie Gillespie, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, Goldberg was asked to play something. When Dimond then played the same piece jazzier with chords and runs Goldberg recalls he was spellbound. “Right then, I knew I wanted to play like that. He turned me around.”

            Goldberg hopes he can equally inspire the high school pianists competing in the SMRPC.

This year’s contestants also included Phillip Blackstone, 17, of Brandywine;  Rachel Branat, 16, of Leonardtown; Alexander Joseph Cooper, 15, and Noah Winston Donahue, 15, both of Huntingtown; Andrea Prevatt, 15, of Great Mills; Marie Sterba, 15, of Waldorf; and Sarah Catherine Webster Wyrough, 17, of Owings.

             “Thank you for sharing your music with us. We look forward to hearing much more from you in the future,” said CSM Professor of Music Dr. Stephen Johnson, chair of SMRPC, who encouraged all students who were not finalists to return next year.

            The event was sponsored by the College of Southern Maryland and ArtLinks, with support provided by Benefactors, The Garrett Music Academy and the CSM Foundation; Patrons, JoAnn and Mark Kushner, Old Line Bank, Susan and Frank Taylor, Nancy and Henry “Bud” Virts, and Donna Wayson; Supporters, Mark R. Frazer, D.D.S, Mary Anne and John Harms, and Ann and Henry Trentman; and Friends, Joy Bartholomew, Karen and Leonard Zuza, Patricia Blanchard, Tess Scannell and Dr. Robert Schlager.

In its third year, the competition 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.

Commenting on the Ward Virts Piano Project, Donna Wayson, the project’s chair, said, “I can’t believe where this idea has gone. [The student pianists] have brought to life what was so important to us, about our dear friend. This has been the best living memorial.”

Wayson said that a group of friends, who were all students in Calvert County, were looking for a way to memorialize their friend. “He was quite an inspiration to us. He was the only classical pianist that lived down here. He inspired us, he entertained us and he brought the arts to us in such a way that was special,” Wayson said of Ward Virts. “We thought we could bring a musical instrument that would be equal to the feelings we had for him to the community.” In addition to the donation of the grand piano, the project brought a concert series and piano competition to Calvert County.

            The last Ward Virts Concert Series of the season on May 1 at 3 p.m. will feature Russell Wilson, a jazz and ragtime pianist, member of The President’s Own Marine Corps Band and guest performer at last year’s SMRPC finalists’ concert.

            As this year’s SMRPC first-place finalist, Smoot will have the opportunity to perform a prelude to the opening of the 2011-12 Ward Virts Concert Series season featuring Brian Ganz on Oct. 9.

            For information on the Ward Virts Concert Series, visit www.csmd.edu/Arts/wardvirts/.

            For information on the piano competition, visit www.csmd.edu/SoMdPianoCompetition.