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School of Music

Piano Professors Promote Diversity and Inclusivity Through Music at Untold Stories Competition

Piano professors and student winners of the Untold Stories piano competition reflect on the event’s impact

While composers like Beethoven, Mozart and Bach may put the “classic” in “classical music,” piano professors Jihea Hong-Park, Jared Pierce, Scott Holden and Stephen Beus wanted to get their students involved with voices in music that are often looked over for programming. To promote composers who come from marginalized backgrounds, the piano professors worked together to plan and host the Untold Stories piano competition.

The competition, which took place on February 28, sought to “promote works of living composers, female composers, composers of color or composers from an underrepresented demographic, nationality or culture.”

“In the classical music world, composers of color, female composers and composers of underrepresented demographics often don’t get programmed,” said Pierce. “The focus of our competition was to inspire our students to learn these works and tell their untold stories through performance and video.”

Beus added, “The Untold Stories project has been (and continues to be) an exciting adventure of discovery.”

Students who participated in the competition selected a piece composed by someone who was underrepresented in the music world and performed it live for two guest artist judges from New York City, Mika Sasaki and Blair McMillen, both professional pianists. In addition, the students were encouraged to also submit videos of themselves performing the selected pieces, which were judged separately from the live performances.

Students and professors pose for a picture on a stage
Competition participants pose for a picture on stage.
Photo by Courtesy of Jihea Hong-Park

Winners of the competition were selected in both the live performance and video categories. Hanae Yamamoto, a senior in the music performance program, took first place in the live performance category, and Lela Packard, also a music performance major, won in the video category.

Yamamoto performed “Musica Nara” by Japanese composer Minako Tokuyama. While Tokuyama is a celebrated composer in Japan, her work is less well-known in the United States. Yamamoto said she chose to perform Tokuyama’s piece because it reminded her of her hometown in Japan.

“This piece is about hometowns,” said Yamamoto. “My hometown is in Japan and I haven't been able to go back to Japan for four years. . . . so I connected with this piece.”

Hearing that she had won in the live performance category was a pleasant surprise for Yamamoto. On the night of the competition, Yamamoto said that she didn’t expect to win; she was just excited to perform again after taking a break from school as she focused on her family.

“I didn't expect anything special,” she said. “I just wanted to perform because it's been a long time since I've performed in front of many people.”

As the winner of the video category, Lela Packard submitted a video of her performance of Clara Schumann’s “Romance Op. 21 No. 3.”

Schumann was a German composer who lived during the Romantic era. She composed music while taking care of her husband, who had depression and bipolar disorder, and raising eight children.

Packard said she started practicing this piece last fall and has enjoyed learning more about Schumann’s life.

“I really connected with her story,” said Packard. “Every time I play this piece, I just imagine those feelings she might have had with her family relations and also being a woman composer.”

When it came to making the music video, Packard said she felt that she and the assembled team of film and acting students were “very inspired” as they filmed the video in a single day. Packard’s friend, a film major, reached out to actors he knew who would like to work on this project. The final video alternates between depictions of Schumann’s life with her family and scenes of Packard playing “Romance Op. 21 No. 3.”

“It was a team effort,” Packard said.

When asked about her feelings on winning in the video category, Packard expressed her gratitude. She said, “I feel very grateful that I am able to share this with people.”

“There's a lot of music out there that isn't shared or done very often,” Packard added. “Being part of this competition has really opened my eyes to seeing how we can tell these stories about people.”

The piano professors look forward to continuing to promote the works of composers who come from marginalized groups.

“In recent years, we have finally begun to make imperative efforts to address and understand the notions of diversity, equity and inclusion in our society,” said Hong-Park. “One of the most powerful ways that we, as performing artists, can promote inclusiveness in classical music is through diverse concert programming. To engage and build our future audience, we must think creatively and inclusively.”

Congratulations to the winners of the live performance segment of the competition. Their performances will be featured on an upcoming CD of the music played during the competition:

First Place: Hanae Yamamoto

Second Place: Molly Smith

Third Place: Brooke Ballard

Fourth Place: Hongyi Chen

Live performance honorable mentions:

Aubree Litster

Jayden Monson

Lauren Cain

Sylvan Scott

Congratulations to the winners of the short video competition:

First Place: Lela Packard

Second Place: Alissa Dorman

Third Place: Taylor Feitz

Short video honorable mentions:

Beth Christensen

Sylvan Scott

Noah Hecker