Amateur Pianists Get A Chance To Shine
By Jim Becherman
Reprinted from The Record, May 26, 2000

An amateur, by definition, does something for love, rather than money.

But Phred Meller, creator of the Northeastern Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, is guessing that the 25 hobbyists who will compete in Ridgewood Thursday through June 3 wouldn't be averse to a few greenbacks. So he's offering a $1,000 first prize in this first-ever-event, co-sponsored by New York's Faust Harrison Pianos.

"Competition is a way to get people to play, and to get people to come out and see it," says Meller, a Hillsdale piano instructor. He's counting on the old-fashioned American love of gamesmanship to draw audiences to this three-day event at the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood.

The folks who have been brushing up on their Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Scriabin, and Satie to prepare for their big weekend include an ophthalmologist, a librarian, a retired photographed, a psychiatrist, and a homemaker. None is under the age of 35, and one contestant, Meller says, is 80. The contest, patterned after similar events in Paris and Texas, is a way to acknowledge the dedicated dabbler - the backbone of the piano business, after all, but rarely acknowledged in a culture where raw talent seems to be appreciated only in the young. "In the piano world, it's very youth oriented," Meller says. "You can't even get into most competitions once you're 30. "When you want youth, you watch 'Baywatch.' But when you listen to Beethoven, you want wisdom, sensitivity, and perception. Those things come with maturity, not youth."

Each of the 25 contestants - some from as far away as Illinois and Virginia - will play a 10-minute piece for Thursday's elimination round, to be judged by a blue-ribbon panel of pianists, composers, and Juilliard experts.That first group will be whittled down to eight for next Friday's round and then to three for the June 3 showdown.

"It's one thing to play in the sanctity of your living room," Meller says. "It's another to play in a room full of people. That's how you separate the wheat from the chaff."

(Reprinted from The Record, May 26, 2000)

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