ALUMNI SPOTLIGHTS

2019          2018          2017          2016          2015

 

2019

Special kudos to James Algermissen, age 13, who won EIGHT First prizes, and Ella Kollett, age 15, who won SIX first place prizes in the 2019 festival:

JAMES ALGERMISSEN

Teacher: Kellie Johannik
 

 • BEST PERFORMANCE OF A WORK WRITTEN, ARRANGED OR EDITED BY JOHN SALMON


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A WORK WRITTEN, ARRANGED OR EDITED BY KEVIN OLSON


• PIANO ENSEMBLE AWARD FOR BEST PERFORMANCE OF A WORK FOR 4 OR MORE HANDS


• CREATIVE STYLISTIC VARIETY AWARD


• MOST VERSATILE PIANIST


• BEST DEMONSTRATION OF GENUINELY SPONTANEOUS IMPROVISATION IN ANY STYLE (SOLO PIANO) 


• BEST DEMONSTRATION OF GENUINELY SPONTANEOUS IMPROVISATION IN ANY STYLE (PIANO ENSEMBLE) 


• BEST DEMONSTRATION OF SPONTANEITY AND/OR IMPROVISATION IN A JAZZ, POP, GOSPEL OR RAG STYLE WORK

ELLA KOLLETT

Teacher: Karali Hunter

 • BEST PERFORMANCE OF A PRE-BAROQUE OR BAROQUE PERIOD WORK


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A CLASSICAL PERIOD WORK


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A COMPOSITION IN ANY STYLE BY MARJORIE BURGESS


• ARTIST PIANIST AWARD


• CREATIVE STYLISTIC VARIETY AWARD


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A CONCERTO MOVEMENT FEATURING THE PERFORMER'S OWN ORIGINAL CADENZA(S) AND/OR LEAD-IN(S)

Ella Kollett.jpg

Ella (front, 2nd from left) with her teacher (to her right, behind) and the judges & directors

James performing "A Little Latin" by Kevin Olson

2018

 
McCollough Sisters.png

Claire McCollough (left) and her sister Julianne (right) collectively won a total of SEVEN first place prizes in the 2018 festival!

CLAIRE MCCOLLOUGH

Teacher: Janet Ali

 

Earned 4 first prizes (the most in 2018):

• BEST PIANIST STUDYING WITH A CMTA MEMBER ($50)


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A WORK WRITTEN OR EDITED BY KEVIN OLSON ($50)


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF CLEMENTI OP. 36 (HOULE EDITION) ($50)


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A LYRICAL AND PREDOMINANTLY SLOW WORK ($50)

CLAIRE'S BIO

Claire began taking piano lessons at the age of 7 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Less than a year later, the McColloughs moved to Colorado, where Claire started lessons with Janet Ali. It was here where she discovered how much she enjoyed using piano to spread joy to those around her. Throughout the next eleven years, she performed yearly at National Federation of Music Clubs (regional and state levels), United States International Piano Duo Competition, and studio recitals. She taught beginner piano lessons starting in 8th grade and eventually had nine students.


In Claire’s senior year, she prepared a Guild High School Diploma Program in Social Music (scoring top marks) and earned a 75-point solo piano trophy from National Federation of Music Clubs (along with her four first-prize awards in the 2018 Festival for Creative Pianists).
Claire is now in her first year studying business at University of Colorado Boulder, and she misses piano very much. She hopes to continue playing and teaching on the side once she can fit a keyboard in her home again (dorm rooms are very small).


Her word of advice to piano students is to stick with piano through the first (sometimes more difficult) years because it only grows more fun from there. She wanted to quit in 6th grade, but she continued learning and has never regretted it. After all, it was only afterwards that Claire learned how much she values piano in order to express her artistry and emotions and share them with others.

JULIANNE MCCOLLOUGH

Teacher: Janet Ali

• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A COMPOSITION IN ANY STYLE BY MARJORIE BURGESS ($200)


• MOST VERSATILE PIANIST ($100)


• BEST DEMONSTRATION OF GENUINELY SPONTANEOUS IMPROV (SOLO PIANO) ($50)

JULIANNE'S BIO

Julianne started piano lessons at age 5 with Janet Ali in Denver, Colorado. Throughout primary, elementary, and middle school, Julianne greatly enjoyed playing, practicing, and taking lessons for the piano. Over the next 8 years (and counting), she repeatedly took part in the National Federation of Music Clubs, scoring her 30-point cup for piano solo in 2016. She has performed in the United States International Piano Duo Competition three times, and in the 2019 USIDPC, Julianne and her partner Bethany Kempe placed third in the 17-18 category internationally. One of Julianne’s highlights of 2018 was participating in her first Festival for Creative Pianists, where she earned three first-prize awards.
Her favorite aspects of playing piano are improvising and learning jazz, which serve both as a treat to play and as a creative outlet. 


Outside of lessons, Julianne loves to play the piano anywhere she can. She plays at some school events, and she is part of the middle school worship team at her church. Some of Julianne’s other interests include playing the harp, reading, writing stories, spending time with friends or family, and enjoying Colorado's nature.

McCollough Sisters 3.png

The judges congratulate Claire McCollough

McCollough Sisters 2.png

Julianne gets coached by Dr. Houle on her Clementi

McCollough Sisters 4.jpg

Happy sisters display their prize & participant certificates

McCollough Sisters 5.jpg

With Janet Ali (center), their proud teacher

McCollough Sisters 6.jpg

With Wynn-Anne Rossi

McCollough Sisters 8.jpg

Claire McCollough, Arthur Houle, Evan Mazunik, and Julianne McCollough

McCollough Sisters 7.jpg

With John Salmon

 

2017

Samantha Ng 2.jpg
James Algermissen copy.png

Special kudos to Samantha Ng, age 13, and James Algermissen, age 11, who each won a total of FOUR first place prizes in the 2017 festival:

SAMANTHA NG

Teacher: Valerie Mishek

• ARTIST PIANIST AWARD 


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A PRE-BAROQUE OR BAROQUE PERIOD WORK


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A CONTEMPORARY WORK


• BEST PIANIST STUDYING WITH A DAMTA MEMBER

SAMANTHA'S BIO

Samantha started learning piano at the age of 5 with the University of Utah’s School of Music, Preparatory Division. During those early years, she began to develop and gain confidence in her musicianship skills, and discover the joy that music brings to her and those around her. In 2013 & 2014, she participated and won first prize in the Salt Lake Piano Competition.

She and her family moved to Colorado in 2014, and she continued to practice diligently and challenge herself in piano playing. Since moving to Colorado, she has taken part and excelled in various piano competitions and festivals in Colorado, including The Modern Festival, The Colorado Federation of Music Clubs’ Music Festival, MTA Suburban Northwest Fall Festival, FMTA Sonatina Festival, Schmitt Music Competition (Non Competitive Division) and the National Piano Guild. The 2017 Festival of Creative Pianists was particularly fun for her due to the personal interactions she had with the judges.

Samantha is blessed to have been taught by 3 wonderful piano teachers: Karlyen Tan in Salt Lake City, Karen Greenhalgh and Valerie Mishek in Colorado. They have all been instrumental in helping her develop her skills in piano playing. Playing the piano serves as a creative outlet for Samantha, and she enjoys the music of both classical and contemporary composers. She hopes to be able to use her music to bring joy to those in the community one day.


Apart from piano, Samantha plays the clarinet in her school’s marching band. She is an avid reader and writer, enjoys figure skating and loves to travel with her family.

JAMES ALGERMISSEN

Teacher: Kellie Johannik

• BEST DEMONSTRATION OF GENUINELY SPONTANEOUS IMPROVISATION IN ANY STYLE (PIANO ENSEMBLE)


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A WORK FOR 4 OR MORE HANDS


• MOST VERSATILE PIANIST


• BEST DEMONSTRATION OF SPONTANEITY AND/OR IMPROVISATION (JAZZ, POP, GOSPEL OR RAG)

James Algermissen.png

James Algermissen is congratulated by the three judges during the Awards Ceremony

Samantha Ng Award.png

Samantha Ng being congratulated by Dr. Houle during the Awards Ceremony

 

2016

Desi Silverman-Joseph.png
Maria Ali (Cropped).jpg

At the young age of 11, Desi Silverman-Joseph won a total of SEVEN prizes in the 2016 festival, thereby shattering all previous prize-garnering records since the festival began in 2001.

Another standout contestant in the 2016 festival was Maria Ali, who scooped FOUR prizes.

DESI SILVERMAN-JOSEPH

Teachers: Joan Garver & Joyce Li (Joyce & Desi on YouTube)

• ARTIST PIANIST AWARD

• BEST PERFORMANCE OF PRE-BAROQUE, BAROQUE WORK OR CLASSICAL PERIOD WORK

• BEST COMPOSITION BY A BUDDING YOUNG COMPOSER 

• FINALIST: BEST ORIGINAL WRITTEN COMPOSITION

 

• BEST DEMONSTRATION OF GENUINELY SPONTANEOUS IMPROVISATION

• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A ROMANTIC PERIOD WORK​

• MOST VERSATILE PIANIST

DESI'S BIO

Desi started playing piano with a Suzuki instructor, Joan Garver, when he was only 4 years old. He has been with his current teacher, Joyce Li, since the age of 7.
 
• In 2014, he won first place in the CSMTA Rising Stars Festival as well as the Schmitt Piano Competition.


• In 2014, he also performed with the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge.


• Jack Younger and Desi placed second in the 2016 International Duo Piano Competition.


• Desi was also a winner in the Advanced Competitive Division of the 2016 Schmitt Music competition.
 
Desi likes to compose in a variety of styles and listen to classical music, especially by Chopin and Shostakovich. This was evident in his Chopin-esque Night Eagle Nocturne.
 
He also enjoys listening to contemporary music by Bruno Mars, Jason Mraz, the Beatles ("Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!"), and Train.

MARIA ALI

Teacher: Unlisted

• BEST DEMONSTRATION OF EMBELLISHING AND/OR IMPROVISING OR ORIGINAL CADENZA

 

• FINALIST: BEST ORIGINAL WRITTEN COMPOSITION

• BEST DEMONSTRATION OF SPONTANEITY AND/OR IMPROVISATION JAZZ, POP, GOSPEL OR RAG

• BEST PIANIST STUDYING WITH A CMTA MEMBER 

In 2014, Maria earned 2 first prizes:

BEST DEMONSTRATION OF SPONTANEITY AND/OR IMPROVISATION IN A JAZZ, POP, GOSPEL OR RAG STYLE WORK

BEST DEMONSTRATION OF GENUINELY SPONTANEOUS IMPROVISATION IN ANY STYLE (SOLO OR PIANO ENSEMBLE)

In 2017, Maria, at age 19, won 2 first prizes:

 

BEST PERFORMANCE OF AN ORIGINAL TASTEFUL TRANSCRIPTION OR ARRANGEMENT

MOST CREATIVE PIANIST

She also presented a workshop for teachers and students: "Music and American Sign Language."

In 2019, she was one of two featured festival alumni to perform in the festival's inaugural Alumni Celebration Recital!

MARIA'S BIO

Maria Ali has played the piano since the age of two, with music holding a central role in her life ever since. She began participating in federation festivals and competitions in first grade, the International Duo Piano Competition in second, and 10-piece memorized guild programs yearly starting in third grade.
 
Maria's well-rounded musical education encompasses 16 years of private piano lessons, six years on voice, three on sax, one on violin, and additional instruction on jazz piano, conducting, and composition. Also to her credit is the completion of AP music theory in which she obtained the top score of five. Her perfect pitch and fluency as soloist, ensemblist and improviser has been achieved through playing in band, jazz band, and orchestra, and through piano duet, duo, trio, concerto and quartet participation over the years.
 
Her yearly accolades in piano performance and composition include some at the national and international level. Her 2013 and 2016 awards in the Golden Key Music Festival brought her to Vienna, Austria where she performed her winning composition in the Vienna Summer Music Festival amongst winners from all around the world. One such winner was Robert Wallace, who has performed private concerts for the Obama family and Al Gore, among others. In 2014, Maria was named winner in the American College of Musicians International Piano Composition Contest. Her composition, Code Blue (for woodwind quintet), was among only five winners of the Open Space Festival of New Music 2014; UNC Greeley Masters performance students performed this quintet. The other winners of this competition were college students and professors – most notably, a Harvard College music professor.
 
In 2015, she attained a longstanding goal of receiving the 75-point Grand Cup from the National Federation of Music Clubs. This major award required 13 years of memorization of two contrasting solo pieces in addition to completion and memorization of concerto works. In 2016, she earned her 90-point President's Cup from the National Federation of Music Clubs, the highest honor this club bestows. She also won top performer at the Colorado State Competitive Federation Festival in the Very Difficult II level and in Senior Concerto as well. Lastly, she was winner of the Steinway Piano Concerto Competition in Denver, CO and the National Federation of Music Clubs Lana M. Bailey National Concerto Competition.
           
While Maria has experienced competition in many different arenas, her favorite by far is the Festival for Creative Pianists. She says it is like no other. With such an extensive array of awards available, students are recognized for a variety of strength areas. What she says she likes the most are the people who run and adjudicate this one-of-a kind festival. She has never laughed more or been so engaged by such talented and fun people! The opportunity to have a personal master class with not just one, but three top national jazz/composition/performance specialists blew her away!
 
In her free time, Maria enjoys playing from her collection of over 15 musical instruments. She can intuitively figure out any instrument on her own very quickly. She enjoys circus arts, including hand balancing, German pole and contortion. She has also earned multiple national first place titles in one- and two-baton twirling. Moreover, she is adept with languages (including sign language and French) and is currently studying Japanese.

 

2015

Andrew Vargas.jpg

Andrew Vargas won a total of FOUR first place prize awards in the 2015 Festival for Creative Pianists
      —a record for that year's festival!

ANDREW VARGAS

Teacher: Unlisted

• ARTIST PIANIST AWARD 


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A PRE-BAROQUE, BAROQUE WORK OF CLASSICAL PERIOD WORK


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF A ROMANTIC PERIOD WORK


• BEST PERFORMANCE OF AN IMPRESSIONISTIC OR CONTEMPORARY WORK (IN ANY STYLE)

ANDREW'S BIO

Andrew Vargas engages audiences with his virtuosic and confident command of the piano. In addition to his accolades in the 2015 festival, he has achieved First Place in numerous competitions in Oklahoma and Colorado, including the Young Artist Piano Festival and Competition, Oklahoma Music Olympics sponsored by the Oklahoma Philharmonic, OMTA District and State Competition, and as semi-finalist in The Kuleshov International Piano Festival and Competition. Recently selected to participate in Piano Texas International Academy and Festival, he looks forward to learning from master teachers from around the world.  In May 2016, Vargas placed first in The Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition and later had the honor to perform in Carnegie Hall.

Vargas has also had the privilege to perform in Petree Recital Hall (Oklahoma City University), Moss Performing Arts Center (Colorado Mesa University), Radke Hall (The University of Central Oklahoma), and Seretean Center For The Performing Arts (Oklahoma State University). In the past year, he has had master classes with Stephen Beus, Sergio Monteiro, and Lori Sims. The Oklahoman newspaper has featured his piano accomplishments twice and several articles have also appeared in Mustang Times and Mustang News.  Vargas credits festival directors Dr. Houle and Mrs. Billberg for their genuine interest in helping him realize his potential in piano and for nurturing his creative gifts.

Utilizing his God-given creativity to compose fresh and adventurous piano music, his work has been recognized nationally. In 2016, his composition, Phantasms, was the National First Place Composition winner for the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) and Phantasms was also a finalist in the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Competition.  

This past year Vargas has overcome life-threatening health challenges. Once recovered, playing the piano gave Andrew something to look forward to while in the hospital. He was also granted a wish from Make a Wish Foundation and decided to give his wish away by generously blessing his teacher with a brand new Steinway grand piano! Andrew enjoyed planning the wish with his Wish family and helped to organize a huge surprise reveal during one of his teacher's performance classes. It was a night to remember!

Originally from Florida, Andrew currently resides in the Oklahoma City area. Andrew serves his community by sharing his love for classical music and experiences great joy as he bestows his gift in senior centers, museums, student groups, churches and as a guest performer for non-profit organizations such as The Gaylord-Pickens Heritage Museum, Make a Wish Foundation, and Integris Hospital. When not pursuing his passion at the piano, Vargas reads biographies, skis backcountry trails, and enjoys learning about vintage cars. 

Andrew in the news

Andrew Vargas 2.jpg

Dr. Koji Attwood, judge (left) and Andrew Vargas (right)