Deseret News: Utah families host professional pianists from around the world

By Erica Palmer | Deseret News

Published June 10, 2014

In a few weeks, 39 pianists from around the world will come to Salt Lake City to compete in the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition. Behind the scenes, dozens of Utah families volunteer their time and their homes to host these musicians.

Dozens of professional pianists from all over the world visit Salt Lake City every two years through the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition. And behind the scenes, dozens of Utah families offer up their time, homes and grand pianos to host and support these participants.

“For me, it’s wonderful,” said John Pace, whose family will be hosting a competitor for the fourth time. “I just like the whole thing. I think it’s watching the process and watching them compete and work so hard.”

Pace, who is a pianist himself, said he first decided to host a competitor because he wanted to get more involved in the artistic community shortly after his family moved to Utah.

“I thought this would be a good way to meet people in piano and the music community, and it has worked out great,” he said.

This year’s competition will feature the “artists” age group of competitors ages 19-32. Every two years, the competition switches off between this age group and the “junior” and “young artists,” ages 11-13 and 14-18.

The musicians will go through two weeks of competitions, from June 11-25, performing the music of their choice. The winners come away with thousands of dollars in cash and concert arrangements throughout the world.

The Salt Lake competition is the second-largest internationally recognized piano competition in the nation, according to Ruby Chou, media coordinator for the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation.

The contestants are chosen through live auditions held throughout the world and are judged by an international jury. This year’s 39 contestants will represent 14 countries in North America, Europe and Asia.

Pace said he enjoys seeing the dedication and hard work of the musicians.

“Being around people so dedicated and determined is probably the best thing,” he said. “It’s such a lesson for anyone who wants to be a musician. I just really admire the capabilities that these people have.”

He said the first thing the competitors always want to do after they arrive at his house and get settled is start playing the piano. They practice for six to eight hours a day during the weeks of the competition.

Listening to nonstop piano music might get tiring for some, but Pace said he enjoys it.

Chou said her family hosted contestants for the competition when she was younger.

“I was in piano lessons and my parents said, ‘You need to see what a pianist really does,'” she said. “I was super excited because no one in my family really plays an instrument.”

They hosted a 14-year-old competitor from China. Chou, who was 11 at the time, still remembers sitting on the stairs and listening to her play.

“I could not believe the level that she was playing at,” Chou said. “I would literally sit and just listen to her practice. She was concertizing in my living room.”

Her parents’ idea worked, and Chou began taking piano more seriously. She started teaching lessons when she was 17 and has since obtained a master’s degree in piano performance.

Chou said an increased drive to play the piano was not the only thing she received from the hosting experience.

“(I enjoyed) all the different cultural experiences that you get,” she said. “And just the friendship that you get from these musicians. It’s a very special connection that you make when you welcome them into your home and you become their family for two weeks.”

Erica Palmer is a writer for the Mormon Times and Features department.

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