Last month, Dobyns-Bennett High School student Emily Cai and homeschooled student Evan Dickson traveled to the Big Apple to perform solo pieces at Steinway Hall. And in just a few weeks, Dickson and homeschooled student Hannah Fantin will perform a duet at Carnegie Hall, widely considered one of the most prestigious concert venues in the world.
Each of the students is trained by Carol Stone, owner of Carol Stone Piano Studio in Kingsport. Stone noted that only a select few are chosen to perform at these events, and her students are the only ones from Tennessee invited to play.
The road to Steinway
Out of 140 competitors from around the world, Stone said only 15 were invited to perform in the Steinway Hall winners’ recital, held Oct. 13. Both Cai and Dickson were invited to perform solos, an even rarer honor.
Cai, a scholarship winner from the Bristol Music Club competition, has been playing piano for seven years. In the Steinway competition, she chose to perform “Staccato Beans” by Tan Dun, a Chinese composer.
“I had only been to New York City one other time,” Cai said, “so it was really exciting.”
Dickson began playing piano at 6 years old. He chose to perform “The Rain” by Alexander Peskanov at Steinway Hall and received the Peskanov Composer’s Award for Piano Solo.
Onward to Carnegie
On Dec. 8, Dickson and Fantin will team up for a duet at Carnegie Hall. The pair will play “Calliope,” an upbeat piece composed by Alexander Peskanov.
“I was so excited when I found out,” Dickson said. “I’ve never seen any pictures or videos of Carnegie, but I’ve heard that Carnegie is one of the biggest halls in all of America, so I was certainly very excited to hear that I’d be performing.”
Fantin has been playing piano for nine years. She and Dickson plan to prepare for Carnegie by not only practicing multiple days a week, but also performing in front of local crowds.
After finding out she and Dickson had been invited to perform at Carnegie, Fantin said she “was honestly astonished.”
“We weren’t playing a super advanced piece like other people were,” she said, “but we worked hard on our theatrics and we were able to make it.”
Stone added that her students not only play Alexander Peskanov’s music, but they also learn from him on a personal level. When Peskanov heard Fantin and Dickson play, he felt they would work well together as a duet.
“He’s my idea man,” Stone said. “He comes in and meets my students … and he says, ‘Let’s try them as a duet team.’ So that’s how they got put together.”
A lasting impact
Though each of the three students plans to pursue careers outside of piano, Stone believes playing in these competitions has given them life skills they can apply to any situation.
“I know for a fact that these kids will always have music as one of the main parts of their lives,” Stone said. “So to me, that’s a huge gift to them.”
Stone is opening her studio to motivated piano students with a desire to compete in these national competitions. She can be reached at (423) 967-9466.