My journey in this direction began about four-years ago when my son, Christopher, asked me to accompany him on the piano for a concerto competition when he was playing principal oboe in the Ozark Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (OPYO). A concerto is a piece of instrumental music written for one or more soloists and an orchestra. But for competitions, because you can’t just produce an orchestra to accompany you out of thin air, the piano plays the orchestra score, which usually doesn’t do the song justice. But it works. Whichever student wins the competition is rewarded by playing their instrumental solo in OPYO’s Spring Concert, being accompanied by the 50-60 string, woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments in the youth orchestra, versus just a piano. Obviously it’s a pretty awesome honor to have this opportunity.
The following year I accompanied our son, Christopher, again in the competition. This time I was invited to accompany another young aspiring Siloam Springs band student that Christopher had recruited to play bassoon in OPYO. His name was Michael Allard.
Before Michael joined the youth orchestra the start of his junior year in High School, he was planning on becoming a medical doctor like his Dad. But after seeing how much better he got from a lot of long and diligent practices on the bassoon – a very difficult instrument to play – and the excitement that it brought into the lives of those who heard him play, he made a decision to make music his profession. He figured nothing could be more rewarding in life than this. This was becoming Michael’s way of serving the Lord through the talents and abilities God had given to Him. Changing directions in his future career was quite a sacrifice because Michael was and is a very intelligent student with a high ACT score and a GPA over 4.0. Yet his father and mother both supported their son on his monumental decision, even though the life of a musician is usually pretty frugal.
I think Michael also took great joy in seeing how fast he was leapfrogging over other bassoonists who were older and had been playing longer than he had. He had just recently moved back to the Siloam area when we had met him early on in his junior year. But that Fall he began to get very serious at becoming better on his instrument after joining OPYO, which had a great venue to perform amazing pieces of music by the best composers—Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mozart, Dvorak, Mendelssohn, etc. He began to really start to practice hard and long at getting better. As a result, he won 2nd chair, 1st band in the state band competition that year. That’s the second best in the state, competing against band kids from all schools of all sizes. This last year he became the top High School bassoon player in the state: 1st chair, 1st band.
For two years now Michael has asked me accompany him on the piano for his OPYO concerto competitions. This past year he choose to perform Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B flat major, something every bassoonist eventually performs, but usually not until later in life. For the piano part, just like accompanying my son, it was just about at the very apex of my skill and ability, plus some. The good thing about these concerto competitions, they don’t judge the accompanist, only the instrumental soloist. Even so, you have to stay in near perfect rhythm at that high rate of speed and play fairly accurately without making the instrumentalist sound and look bad. As when I was accompanying my son in these same competitions, I had to practice fairly hard for a few months before being able to perform in front of others, much less judges. After all, I still get nervous, too, and I can still get plenty embarrassed. Even though my son and Michael could have hired a much better pianist to make them look and sound better, they choose to stick with me. Why? Because I was cheap. Can’t get cheaper than free. Plus I was available. And it helped me to improve upon my rusty skills that I hadn’t brushed off for many years.
Someone once complimented me upon my piano playing by saying, “You sure have a gift on the piano.” I replied, “I think you mean that I have some talent on the piano. If I had a ‘gift,’ then why did I have to practice that song 150-times before performing it in public?” That’s what I feel like when accompanying these amazing young musicians. They practice hours and hours every day. It’s nothing for Michael to practice three-hours in one day, even when he was a Junior. Unbelievable for a High School student. How can an old man like myself keep up with such dedicated and focused young musicians? My reward comes when I see how far they come in such a short amount of time, and where music is taking them in life. I’ll do my part to help if I can.
OPYO’s concerto competition is about the third week in January each year. This year, even though Michael performed his Mozart solo selection before the judges to near perfection and certainly good enough to win, like Christopher last year, he got third place. It’s hard to compete against great violinists who are usually favored by judges. For woodwinds like the oboe and bassoon, it’s difficult for judges to hear how utterly amazing and fascinating the orchestra sounds when replacing the piano part in the concerto. Not so much so with the violin.
Anyway, I still noticed Michael got quite nervous when performing before the judges. Nothing unusual there. That’s very common. But now he was starting to apply to some major colleges for music scholarship, and he had some live auditions scheduled all over the country. He had already won the Fine Arts in the Four States scholarship, and as a result was asked to perform in their annual Senior Scholarship Showcase concert on March 25 of this year at Pittsburg State University (Kansas). So to help him further get used to performing in front of people as a soloist without an orchestra behind him, I decided to schedule a Home Concert at my brother and his wife’s home, and added many other fantastic and talented local musicians to join him that I knew. It was so successful and well-received, and helped Michael further develop his “live performance” skills, that I decided to put together one more public concert before he left for college this Fall, but on a much larger scale.
This time I decided to showcase many more tremendously talented students and adults, adding many that I didn’t know about until asking around. The result is what took place on August 12th at 2:30 in the afternoon at the First Baptist Church in Siloam Springs. Between 400-450 attended, making it a great experience for Michael and the other young musicians to get better at their instruments and performing before larger live audiences. To view Michael’s performance, click HERE.
The hard work has paid off for Michael. He applied to three major universities and one famous music institute. They all wanted him and offered him scholarships. Of the four, he choose DePaul University near downtown Chicago. They have two renowned instructors, Robert Barris and William Buchman, both of whom have extensive experience as performers and teachers. Michael just finished his first quarter there this Fall. Being in a large city like Chicago will give Michael great opportunities to go as far with his career as he chooses. He’s got the mind, rhythm, talent, and desire. I’m already looking forward to traveling to downtown Chicago to hear him play in the DePaul University Concert Hall in Lincoln Park. Michael’s coming back to perform in SMFS’ Christmas Community Concert on December 22nd with his fellow SSHS Band and OPYO colleague, Christopher Barnett. They will be performing Tchaikovsky’s Overture from The Nutcracker Suite.
It’s exciting following the lives of totally committed young people in their musical goals and dreams. We can do our part by supporting them now by attending these local community concerts, before they go off into the wild blue yonder. It is us that ends up being blessed the most by hearing them perform wonderful pieces of compositions by the great masters. We’re all wishing Michael the absolute best in his musical pursuits in college and thereafter.