News / USA

Amateur Pianists Compete in Van Cliburn Contest

Christopher Shih, a physician from Maryland, competes in the semi-final round of the sixth International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs hosted by the Van Cliburn Foundation in Fort Worth, Texas, May 28, 2011.
Christopher Shih, a physician from Maryland, competes in the semi-final round of the sixth International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs hosted by the Van Cliburn Foundation in Fort Worth, Texas, May 28, 2011.


Bill Zeeble

Two doctors and a retired database programmer took top honors at the 6th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs in Fort Worth, Texas. The competition is hosted by the Van Cliburn Foundation, named after the American pianist who was a child prodigy. This is not the "big" Cliburn contest for young pianists hoping to launch international careers. These amateurs have jobs, but don't play or teach piano for a living. The competition celebrates the making of music as a vital part of daily life.

Christopher Shih's performance of Brahms's "Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel" likely sealed his win in this international contest for amateurs. He received standing ovations from the crowd of piano lovers gathered at Texas Christian University.  

Fourteen years ago, Shih journeyed here for the Cliburn competition for young pianists, but he didn't get far. He says he entered that one for the experience, taking a few weeks off from medical school.

Today, Shih is a gastroenterologist and this past week, he returned to Texas. And he won. 

"The goal is to come and to try to play as best as I possibly can, to try to do the music justice, to partake in the social experience with everyone here and the really talented colleagues," Shih explained.  "So of course the winning is nice, because it's an amateur competition, because we don't need it to put food on the table."

Clark Griffith came in second.  He says the contest offers the opportunity for high-level amateurs to play before a sizable audience.

"I was glad to spend time with this magnificent piano," said Griffith.  "The results are just lots of candy and gravy and fun."

Griffith placed third in 2007, the last time the Cliburn Foundation held this amateur event. This time, he also won for best Baroque era performance, playing several of Bach's Goldberg Variations.

For many of the seventy competitors, the contest is inspiring because their musical muscles had atrophied.

Blame the day job and responsibilities caring for families and children. But their love of piano persists.

Third-place winner Dr. Barry Coutinho is originally from India. He says the contest got him practicing piano again.  

"At this level, the highest thing I did was the BBC Young Musician of the Year and that was 30 years ago," recalled Coutinho.  "[I did] nothing at this level since then.  The thrill is so incredible, playing to an appreciative audience like this on an incredible piano, in an auditorium like this, it's worth it."  

That was the case even for those who did not reach the finals.

Jorge Zamora, from Mexico, made it to the semi-finals. He graduated from the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music, returned to Mexico, but couldn't find a job in music.

With his other degree, in electronics, he found work in telecommunications. He says his mother encouraged him to stay with the piano and would be proud he's here.

"I get emotional because she died 20 years ago, especially because of her support on me making music, was really special. And my father too, who also died 5 years ago. So getting this far in this competition is very meaningful," said Zamora.

Zamora came to the competition from Mexico City with his wife. They're expecting their first child. He says he intends to keep music in the family.

Top prize winner Christopher Shih won $2,000 and $250 for best romantic performance.

He says he'll leave the piano for a while, to spend more time with his wife and 3 daughters.

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violencei
Lenny Ruvaga
November 27, 2014 7:05 PM
The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America