Image courtesy of Millikin School of Music
Image courtesy of Millikin School of Music

Hollis Prize Competition Deepens Musical Community

April 4, 2023

While time and distance separate the Millikin community post-graduation, musical connections bring current and former students together, including Hollis Prize competition winner Risako Hida, an exchange student from Tokyo, Japan.

“I have to do the study abroad at least one year,” Hida said.

Under the stage lights in Kaeuper Hall, three music students performed in competition for the Hollis Prize, the most prestigious annual award offered to a music student. The winner of the Hollis Prize will receive $2,000 and a solo concert at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, Illinois. The two runners up will receive $500.

The runners up in this year’s competition were Julia Funck, a sophomore clarinet performance major, and Spencer Domer, a senior vocal performance major.

Hida, a sophomore studying piano under Dr. Pei-I Wang, said she practiced five hours a day in preparation for the competition. At Millikin, she is able to get music education, something she said she does not study in her liberal arts major in Japan.

In her performance, Hida took a moment between each of her pieces, positioning herself at the piano and breathing deeply. She said it was calming.

“I always imagine the next piece—scene, sound, tempo,” Hida said. “A beautiful garden and flowers and the smell.”

The competition did not only bring the current Millikin community together. It brought back past connections including Tina Nicholson, a recent professor emeritus of music at Millikin. 

As someone who has been in music for a long time, Nicholson has had to evaluate students of different genres. “There is a basic premise of musicality and technicality and poise on stage,” Nicholson said.

Ingrid Kammin, the second judge of the competition, also spoke of her connections to colleagues and friends who teach at Millikin. This was her first time being asked to judge the competition.

An adjunct instructor at Illinois Wesleyan, Kammin mentioned that “being in a place where you can encourage and provide opportunities for youngins” is her favorite part of listening to students perform.

“You can actually hear…nuances and details,” she said.

The musical threads link even further back. Kimm Hollis, after whom the prize is named, is a Millikin alumus of the class of 1972 with a degree in applied piano. Hollis declared himself fortunate to be in a place to fund the competition since 2003.

“I owe my career to this place,” Hollis said. “The School of Music is the pillar of this school. It has always been exceptional.”

During his time at Millikin, Hollis performed both a sophomore and a senior recital. He also won the concerto competition and had the opportunity to play with the Milikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra.

For Hollis, this competition has become a tradition. A group of alumni have always attended the competition, and they would have a party and dinner in a restaurant beforehand.

The connection to the campus, the generous faculty, and the honor of listening to students perform were his highlighted elements of the Millikin community. “People really play and sing their hearts out,” he said.

The highlight for many current and former members of Millikin is the community, something Hollis seemed to value as an alum

“I got through Millikin with my fingers and my brain,” Hollis concluded. “I’m with Millikin now because it’s in my heart.”

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