More than 300 pianists, ages 5 to 18, are converging on Chapman College today for a three-day regional competition sponsored by the Young Keyboard Artists Assn. At stake are more than $10,000 in cash prizes and a $10,000, 6-foot grand piano.
But the way competition founder Dale Nyboer sees it, every participant is a winner.
"We try to minimize any distinction between a prize recipient and a non-prize recipient," said Nyboer, the association president.
"We don't really use the term 'winners.' We use the term 'prize recipients.'
"We want to give all of the participants some recognition and tell them that the important thing is that they played. To win is not the point. The point is to participate and to play your very best. If you did that, you are a winner."
Co-sponsored by the Young Chang Piano Co. and the Music Department at Chapman College, the competition will include pianists from 14 Western states, including Hawaii and Alaska, and four provinces in Canada.
All the semifinalists will be invited to participate in the association's international competition, to be held in Michigan June 11-18. That contest draws about 1,000 contestants yearly, Nyboer said. Participating music schools include the Eastman School of Music, St. Louis Conservatory of Music, University of Michigan School of Music and the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
Nyboer moved to Santa Ana in 1986 to establish the competition in this area. "We're just getting started here," he said. "We feel there is a lot of talent on the West Coast, and we wanted to make the program accessible to (those students) and their teachers."
At Chapman College, youngsters will be grouped into six divisions, according to age (17 through 18, down to 9 through 10, with a separate group for children 8 and younger). Each contestant will pick and play four solos from four periods--Baroque, Classical, Romantic or Impressionist, and contemporary.
Additionally, a concerto competition will be open to students 13 to 18. Practically everyone taking part in the overall competition has signed up for the concerto competition. Its top prize is $1,000, a 6-foot Young Chang grand piano (valued at about $10,000) and an appearance with the Pacific Symphony on a Saturday "Mervyn's Musical Mornings" Young People's Concert at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa on a date to be announced. The five other concerto finalists will win awards of $100 to $500.
In the regular event, prizes for the senior divisions, 13 to 18, range from $50 to $500. For the three junior divisions, 12 and younger, the prize money runs from $50 to $300. Other prizes include gift certificates for scores published by G. Schirmer Inc.
Nyboer said that in addition to the competition, the association will hold a summer piano institute at Chapman College Aug. 7-20, modeled upon an institute he holds at the University of Michigan each summer.
"So many teachers asked me, 'Couldn't we have an opportunity where students learn more about their playing and music in general?' " Nyboer said. "There is no time for that in competitions. So I hired some of the judges to teach two weeks in the summer after the competition."
There will be 12 judges at Chapman, using a 10-point system to evaluate participants in various categories, ranging from technique and interpretation to stage presence and suitability of repertory.
"They also write comments if they want to," Nyboer said. "They don't have to, but usually they do."
Nyboer estimated that the competition will cost about $60,000. (The budget for the Michigan competition is $120,000, he said.)
Young Chang, a Korean piano company with headquarters in Cerritos, has contributed $20,000; Chapman College is also helping with expenses, postage and printing, Nyboer said.
Nyboer acknowledged the controversy surrounding competitions--issues such as the intense pressure participants are put under or the strategy of avoiding controversial repertory or interpretations.
He countered: "Competitions provide an opportunity for students to perform under pressure and to get a critique from professional artist-teachers--the same people sitting on juries in national schools such as Eastman or Juilliard.
"When you play for a jury at a local college, that's the same as a competition, in a sense. But this is objective. The jurors don't know these contestants. That's what's different from a school. A teacher there knows the students.
"Besides, this is a business which involves pressure. If a person can't play under pressure, they shouldn't be in it. And if they learn that by coming to the competition, that's fine. They learn they should try something different.
"It's the people who put a high priority and emphasis on being a prize-winner who are sorely disappointed (in competitions). And to me, that is a great distortion.
"They come with their heart set on winning a prize. Then when they don't win, they pooh-pooh the judges and the competition. I tell them to their face that their attitude is wrong. You (should) come with the attitude of learning. If you do not participate, how can you grow?"
Competitions will be held at 8 p.m. today and Thursday. Tickets are $5 per person.
The concerto finals will be held at 8 p.m. on Friday. Tickets are $10 for reserved seating (in advance only); $7.50 for general admission, and $5 for children, non-Chapman students and senior citizens.
In conjunction with the competition, two recitals will be held. Kyung Sook Lee will play a Beethoven program today at 8 p.m. James Barbagallo will play music by Haydn, Schumann, Debussy and Chopin at 8 p.m. on Thursday. Tickets are $5 for each recital.
For tickets to all events, call the Chapman College ticket office at (714) 997-6812. For information, call the Young Keyboard Artists Assn. , (714) 547-4225.