Two College of Music pianists will begin 2016 on stage with an elite group of competitors. Second year MM Joseph Piontek and first year BM Sophia Zervas are moving on after competing in the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) state competition in Denver.
This isn’t the first time at MTNA for either student: Piontek, who won first place in the Young Artist Division, competed at the state level last year. “It’s one of the biggest competitions in the country. Plus, the state round is close to Boulder so it's fun for us too,” Piontek says of the state finals, which are held at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver. This is Piontek’s first time moving on to the regional competition.
Zervas was an alternate in the Colorado Senior Division last year, but in her last year of eligibility, she won the division in October. “I felt settled in with my repertoire this time, and really enjoyed the experience,” she says.
In contrast to some other competitions, MTNA places a relatively long limit on performance time for each competitor. “You don’t get nervous because you don’t feel like the judges are going to cut you off,” says Piontek. “It’s almost like a mini-recital.” Piontek performed pieces by Frédéric Chopin, Aaron Copland and Claude Debussy; Zervas played Lowell Liebermann, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms and Johann Sebastian Bach.
With hundreds of composers and wind, string, voice and piano musicians competing every year, MTNA offers invaluable exposure and practice to young performers like Piontek and Zervas. “After a certain point you have to stop worrying about winning, and just treat it as a performance opportunity, and a chance to play in front of different people,” says Piontek.
“I’m a really competitive person, so I enjoy having a goal to work toward, but I also want to play well and have fun,” Zervas says.
As an added bonus for Piontek, the West Central Division finals are in Wichita, Kansas, which is just a few hours from his hometown of Kansas City. “My family is planning to come watch since they weren’t able to make it for the state round,” he says. Zervas, whose family lives in Denver, says at least one of her parents will also make the trip to Wichita with her.
Regardless of what happens, Piontek and Zervas say they feel prepared for the competition, in large part because of the training of the keyboard faculty at the College of Music. “Our professors are seasoned performers, so they’ve given us a lot of advice about performing,” says Piontek.
“It helps to play in front of our studios so much, and have opportunities to get into pressure situations and improve our resiliency as performers. It’s a very encouraging environment,” says Zervas. Piontek's primary instructor is Professor Andrew Cooperstock; Zervas' is Professor David Korevaar.
College of Music piano students have always had a strong showing at MTNA: Isaac Holbrook, Katie Mahan, Hyejim Kim, Grace Lee, Chris Jordan, Peter Mathys, Andrew Ramos—to name just a few—have won the state level competition in the past. Alumnus Nathan Brandwein won the national grand prize in 2004.
The MTNA West Central Division competition is Jan. 8-10, 2016, at Wichita State University. Winners move on to the National Finals during the MTNA National Conference in April in San Antonio.