Watch for these future artists: the Concerto/Aria Competition winners

Megan Chrisler

Millikin University proudly and justly showed off its extremely talented music students on Saturday, Feb. 2 at KFAC’s “Young Artists” Concert. Three students who won the Concerto/Aria Competition performed in front of a public audience, accompanied by the Millikin Decatur Symphony Orchestra.

“It’s a good experience,” Megan Dirr, a senior vocal performance major and the featured soprano, said. “It’s not every day you are able to sing with an entire orchestra.”

To get such an experience requires a lot of hard work; months of preparation can go into the audition, held during the fall semester. If chosen, the student then has another three months to prepare for the big night. This can mean anywhere from one to four hours practice daily to memorize the piece. All this, along with rehearsing with the orchestra and overcoming some anxiety, can be exhausting and time-consuming. All three performers, however, agreed that it is entirely worth it.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Chris Raymond, a sophomore music education major and bassoonist, said. Raymond was the first to perform that night, playing the Weber Bassoon Concerto in F Major, Op. 75. Arranged in the conventional three fast-slow-fast movements, it is a piece well-known among any serious bassoonist. He had been working on the piece for the concert since last spring; as a future teacher and perhaps candidate for a masters in performance, it is well worth the effort.

“It was phenomenal, incredible and beyond description,” Jared Rixstine, a freshman double major in political science and piano performance, said about the experience. Rixstine is one of the youngest students to ever win the competition, performing one of the most popular piano concertos in the instrument’s repertoire. It took three to four hour practices a day to make it into the moving solo it became.

“It was absolutely incredible,” Dirr said. “What a dream come true!” Dirr hopes to enter the world of opera after graduation, making the competition a truly great learning experience. Her piece, a set of four love poems written by Juan Vasquez and set to music by Joaquín Rodrigo under the title “Cuatro Madrigales Amatorios,” took about a year to prepare.

But what every musician really wants to know is: how do they overcome the performance anxiety? “Being a performer, it doesn’t phase me,” Rixstine said. “An aspiring performer must bite the bullet and do it. More practice equals less anxiety in the future.”

Raymond was a bit more nervous, but reassuringly said that once the first few notes are over, he finds it easier to get into a comfortable playing position. Dirr noted some ways to control the nervousness before even getting on stage: adequate sleep, diet and even eating bananas can lead to an improved performance (for many people, a more basic banana counteracts an acidic, agitated stomach). These top Millikin performers had other advice to give, too.

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” Rixstine said, using an often-used quote to represent a simple formula: a good work ethic can be a wonderful teammate to a musician’s talent.

“Don’t be discouraged by a bad performance—they happen all the time,” Raymond offered. Although his performance certainly does not fall under this category, it is an all too familiar reality with any artist: it will almost always sound better in the practice room. The point is to look at the average level of your performances, not any individual occurrence.

“Find music that really inspires you as well as learn everything that there is about the music you’re performing,” Dirr said. In fact, the main reason she chose Rodrigo’s “Cuatro Madrigales Amatorios” is because she felt a connection with the piece. “I feel so passionate about how Rodrigo set the song with the text. The text is so powerful.”

Great student musicians do not stop here; there will be another opportunity to listen to some great talent in April when Kelly Lorenz and Adam Blakey take the stage with the wind ensemble and concert band.