by Katie Pohlman
Special to The Gazette
With his nerves racing, Samuel Howard Huie, made his way across the stage to a grand piano with which he would soon perform his piece “The Cat and the Mouse” by Aaron Copland and hear the music echo off the walls of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
At 10 years old, Huie joined 23 other pianists, between the ages of 6 and 29, at the inaugural World Pianist Invitational on June 15. The World Pianist Invitational Foundation, the event host, received 2,500 video applications for the contest. A panel of five international music judges scored each applicant based on their performance, interpretation of the music, musicanship, note and rhythmic accuracy and playing technique. The top 24 scorers were invited to play at the Terrace Theater in the Kennedy Center for the final round where they were scored again for their live performances. Samuel, of Rockville, went on to win his age group and receive a $1,000 scholarship.
Sharon Huie, Samuel’s mother, said they submitted his application at the last minute.
“We waited until the very last day at the very last hour,” Huie said.
At first Samuel wasn’t sure that he wanted to apply, Huie said. But when he decided he was interested, she thought they might as well give the contest a chance.
The contest was split into five age groups: Young Musicians, ages 5 to 9; Junior Musicians, ages 10 to 13; Intermediate Musicians, ages 14 to 17; Advanced Musicians, ages 18 to 21; and Graduate Musicians, ages 22 to 29.
Samuel said he didn’t expect to win, but was pleasantly surprised when he did.
“It felt nice,” he said. “I was just surprised and happy.”
Samuel started playing the piano at 5 when his mother started teaching him at home. But once she had taught him everything she knew, she started to look for a piano teacher. A friend recommended the Sea Sharp Music Studio, located on Hungerford Drive in Rockville, run by Vivian Kwok. Samuel has been practicing there for two and a half years.
Kwok was the one who suggested Samuel should apply for the invitational.
“He had won other competitions, so I encouraged him to apply for this one,” she said.
Another of Kwok’s students, Evan Xue, also applied. Evan, a 7-year-old from Damascus was also invited to perform his piece, “Flood Time” by Eric Thiman, at the Kennedy Center and placed in the top five of his age group, Young Musicians, to receive a $200 scholarship.
Teresa Xue, Evan’s mother, said he started playing the piano when he was 5, just like Samuel. Evan has been practicing under Kwok for two years. He was on a waiting list at the music studio for six months waiting for a slot to open and the chance to learn from Kwok.
Both of the boys practiced for hours everyday leading up to the competition. Xue said she would help Evan practice for one to two hours in addition to his lessons with Kwok.
Kwok was thrilled and excited to have two students in the competition.
“It was very fun to watch them,” she said.
Both mothers, on the other hand, shared their sons’ nervousness as they sat out in the audience. Xue said Evan had a good reason to be nervous. His principal, music teacher and grandparents were all at the center to watch him.
Huie said she was nervous for the beginning of Samuel’s performance, but calmed down as he continued through the piece.
“After the first two pages (of the piece), I knew he would do well,” Huie said, adding that helped her relax and enjoy her son’s performance.