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 blog 5/28/07

The Thresholds Prize
by Camille Witos on Mon, 05/28/2007 - 11:32am.

Sorry I have been absent from these pages for a while. Today's guest post is by Camille Witos, co-founder of the Thresholds Play-a-thon. In an earlier post, I explained how Cedille Records and I got involved in offering the grand prize for this event (with help from WFMT) in support of an organization that works to rehabilitate the mentally-ill homeless. This week's story comes from the perspective of the teacher of the winning piano student. Next week, I will publish the thoughts of the piano student herself.

This past March (2007), one of my 12-year-old piano students, Maddy, had a rare and unique opportunity to record her own CD at WFMT studio in Chicago. How did that happen? Maddy was a recipient of a prize generously donated by Jim Ginsburg, President of the Cedille Records label, and Cedille recording engineer Bill Maylone.

The prize was donated for a student who raised the most money for a music play-a-thon held in November 2006 in the auditorium at Holy Name Cathedral. My colleague and I started this play-a-thon about ten years ago with the belief that music can make a difference in the world. Each student plays a piece in a recital and solicits donations for their performance in the program. Every donor receives a ticket to hear the student perform. All of the money collected goes to Thresholds, an organization that works very diligently with the homeless mentally ill.

As an incentive, a few prizes were awarded to the students who raised the most money. Maddy raised about $1,600 and received first prize - the opportunity to make a professionally-recorded CD with Jim and Bill in the WFMT performance studio. She was both thrilled and nervous at the same time.

The values of such an opportunity are beyond the obvious. First, there is the program. What should be on it? We went through Maddy’s repertoire to see what pieces needed to be relearned, what pieces she liked, and what new pieces could be learned in a few months to a level worthy of recording. That decided, we started the process of working to refine the music.

With the date set, we anticipated the session. Arriving at the studio, there was a remarkable energy that filled the reception area. Knowing that great artists have been there and recorded or played a live program felt like we were part of that history. The winding hall to the studio, the unbelievable quiet, and the recording rooms with extensive equipment all made a deep impression on Maddy.

Inside the studio was the beautiful nine-foot Steinway. What wonderful music making took place here recently? Everything felt so fresh and alive. The potential for beauty was unfathomable. I could tell Maddy was nervous, holding back in ways musically that she doesn’t do in private. Some things worked as practiced, others had to be repeated and refined. Jim and Bill were very patient and persistent, trying to get the best from her playing. They treated her like a musician, not just a student. On a Friday afternoon, after a long day and week at the University of Chicago Lab School, Maddy had to pull together her focus and concentrate for two hours. Sometimes in life we need that extra push to go to a deeper level.

When the demo was finished, Maddy and I sat and listened to it. I will not forget her smile, her shock, and her sense of accomplishment when she heard it. She sounded like a pro with a professional sound and was so proud. There are those times in a student’s piano life when practicing can be boring and isolating, and the student questions why she should study music. Because of this opportunity, Maddy certainly learned an important lesson about the joy and pleasure that comes from all the hard work. She and I are appreciative of Jim and Bill for taking the time to sponsor a young person’s musical growth. And thanks to the wonderful recording, she will be reminded of the depth of the experience whenever she listens to it.

- Camille Witos, co-founder, Thresholds Play-a-thon