Cliburn Piano Contest for Amateurs Kicks Off Monday

The Van Cliburn Foundation's Sixth International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs gets under way with 72 competitors -- including a jeweler, a teacher and a Formula One race car designer.

The event starts Monday for those age 35 and older who don't earn their living teaching or playing the piano -- but many are classically trained. The weeklong contest is at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

The event is an offshoot of the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and is held every four years in the pianist's hometown of Fort Worth, most recently in 2009. This is like the Super Bowl for the amateur competitors who come from all over the world.

"I compare it to the Olympics before they let the professionals in," said Michael Brounoff of Dallas. "It is for people who pursue music, particularly piano, not as a profession but more than just a hobby."

But winning the competition is less important to these amateurs than just being able to perform in the highly regarded event.

"It feels like I'm a winner already that I've been selected to play here, so everything else is really gravy," said retired school teacher Janet Underhill of Chicago.

This year's event will be seen by hundreds inside TCU's Ed Landreth Auditorium, and potentially the entire world online.

"The entire competition will be streamed live at," said Van Cliburn Foundation President & CEO David Worters. "So we'll have people watching all over the world, which is some additional pressure for the competitors."

Cliburn isn't a judge at either competition but presents awards. The acclaimed pianist shot to fame after winning the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow in 1958.

Monday through Wednesday the 72 pianists will be widdled down to 25 competitors for the semi-finals. And then on Sunday six amateurs will compete for the title.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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