Fort Worth, TX – Sam Baker, KERA 90.1 Morning Edition host: The 2nd International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs reaches its crescendo today and tomorrow in Fort Worth, as finalists play for top prizes. But, as 90.1's Bill Zeeble reports, the tension that accompanies typical music contests has given way to a more relaxed atmosphere.
Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 Reporter: David Hibbard's a Fort Worth resident and full time railroad manager with Burlington Northern. He's also an amateur pianist who ventured out last year for his first public performance in decades, when he reached the semi-finals in the first Cliburn amateur competition.
David Hibbard, amateur pianist: Until then, only my wife and sister knew I played. Now, there are at least ten people who remember my name.
Zeeble: Last Sunday, in preparation for this week's contest, Hibbard played in public again for a small crowd of music lovers in Fair Park, all thanks to last year's amateur competition. He says he was more relaxed and much more able to enjoy himself. And because winning wasn't his top priority, he's now not disappointed that he hasn't made the first cuts.
Hibbard: I'm going to enjoy myself this year. I think I ruined last year. I'm positive I did, ?cause I didn't hear everything I could've heard, and this year I'm not going to make that mistake.
Zeeble: Richard Rodzinski, president of the Cliburn Foundation and the amateur competition, says Hibbard is doing exactly what was intended.
Richard Rodzinski, Executive Director, Van Cliburn Foundation: Having experienced the first time around, now they come back with a little more under their belt, and they want to do better than they did last time. They come here not only to accomplish and communicate, but they really do honestly come to have fun and to fraternize with their colleagues.
Zeeble: One returning couple has done even more. They got married after meeting last year. But first-timers also enjoy the same kind musical camaraderie.
Music - Chopin
Zeeble: For Debra Saylor, from Reinbeck, Iowa, this event amounts to a celebration of freedom. One of 18 semi-finalists out of 75 contestants, Saylor says she was sheltered by her parents, and kept far from much of the world. She's blind. Now, at 38, this is her first real, rebellious break away from Iowa, where she's been a church musician and voice teacher.
Debra Saylor, competitor, voice coach: People have told me before that I played with feeling and a special emotion. But I think I know another thing it is too. It's the getting out and seeing the world. It's just seeing the world for what it has to offer, and wanting to take it all in. It's so recent and so new to me. I just feel this emotion for just, life. A passion for living. I mean, just life itself is a passion with me, and I want to live it to the fullest.
Zeeble: When Saylor plays - here on a practice piano - she silently sings her own words to the music. The Chopin Polonaise prompted words and images of victory and independence.
Debussy's "Claire de Lune"
Zeeble: Other music inspires words of love. With a reticent smile, Ms. Saylor admits she's recently fallen in love, but chooses to say little about the man in her thoughts. Critics and the audience sensed something in her playing. It prompted a standing ovation, and not just out of sympathy.
Zeeble: Saylor and the other semi-finalists play again today, with the final round of the amateur piano competition set for tomorrow in Fort Worth. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.