Julia Culpepper (left), 13, Deborah Beason, and Zachary Horn, 11, at Beason’s Steinway grand piano. The piano is what connects them: Zach and Julia are exceptional piano students; Deborah is an exceptional piano teacher. In mid-May, both students won the music lottery, except there was no luck (and no payday) involved. Only months of hard, grinding practice and endless repetition of nuances of technique, phrasing, and dynamics. They are both STATE winners in the Alabama Music Teachers Association (AMTA) annual festival, in which entrants’ performances are rigorously evaluated by professional judges in a formal, audition setting. (The plaques both students are holding identify them as state winners.) Perspective: There are about 20 state winners in each of three age categories of 200-250 students each. Those 700 or so students are the best of the best, having already been winnowed in eight district judging festivals around the state.
“This is the biggest thing ever for me as a professional piano teacher,” said Beason. “I’ve been sending students to the AMTA festival for about 20 years. And I’ve never had a state winner before. I’ve had three students go to state and get honorable mentions, the level just below the state winners – even that’s a big deal – but I’ve never had a state winner before. And this year I have TWO!” (She also got a written accolade from a judge that will fuel her teaching for the next 20 years or so.) How tough are the judging criteria at that level? Beason answers with one word: “Perfection.” Note to parents: both students are graduates of Beason’s Kindermusik program, the music learning class for kindergarten-age and pre-K children.
And how did the winners feel about it? Julia: “Surprised. I thought I did well, but I had no idea it was that well! It was a great experience overall.” Zach: “The same – surprised and excited. I got to go to The University of Alabama (where the finals were held). Got to go to the football workout area and to the Bear Bryant Museum. It was really fun – really cool.” His athletic interests are showing – baseball, basketball, and swimming. Julia plays piano at her church and keyboard for the church’s adult praise band.
Will Julia and Zach pay the grueling practice price again? “Yes,” they chorus in unison. The enthusiasm and reflex speed of the response leaves little room for doubt. Julia is the daughter of Brock and Michaela Culpepper of Cleveland. Zachary is the son of Charlie and Andrea Horn of Locust Fork.