Christopher Dixon Wins James A. Hefner HBCU Piano Competition
Christopher Dixon, a junior majoring in piano performance at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, AL, recently won first place and a $500 cash award in the 2013 James A. Hefner HBCU (Historically Black College and University) Piano Competition at Tennessee State University in Nashville, TN.
“I really didn’t think I was going to win. I wondered if I deserved to win. Pianists, we’re perfectionists. But what I’m learning is that it’s not about how you feel about your performance; it’s about how you move people with your music,” says Christopher, who played emotional renditions of Beethoven’s Sonata opus 14 no 1 allegro and Gershwin’s Three Preludes for the competition.
“Beethoven is a fun, happy piece. The pieces I played in the competition actually have a similar emotion,” says Christopher. “To share that with the audience, you have to not let your nerves overpower your passion; you have to play with emotion even though you’re nervous. And that’s what helps the nervousness go away because you’re not thinking about it any more. If musicians aren’t completely comfortable with music, we fear having a memory slip. But if you hit a wrong note, yes, you need to correct it, but the passion in your musicality outweighs the mistakes that you make.”
“There are many singers in my family and that plays a part in helping me to evoke emotion through music. I grew up listening to people sing, which puts you in touch with your emotional side. But my instructor at Stillman, Dr. Hye-Sook Jung, has really helped me to grow in this area. She is a very emotional pianist and has a great stage presence. I learn so much by watching her demonstrate during my lessons. I think being able to show emotion is what really set me apart in the competition. Having stage presence and putting character into my music aided me in standing out,” says Christopher.
Christopher did not realize that he had a musical gift until he began middle school at Dunbar Creative and Performing Arts Magnet School in Mobile. “At first, I was into sports. I didn’t even want to play piano, but my mother convinced me to sign up for piano lessons. Once I started, you couldn’t keep me out of the piano lab. I excelled in a short amount of time. By my second year of lessons, I was helping other students. My piano teacher, Ms. Gaye Goodard, really encouraged me. My high school didn’t have a program for piano, so I had to get a private teacher, Mrs. Serenetta McCaskill, who also helped give me a good foundation.”
Unlike many pianists, who often begin taking lessons before their fifth birthday, Christopher had a relatively late start. Making up for lost time has required diligence and dedication. He credits Dr. Jung for helping him take his talent to the next level. “Stillman is where I first started training on a professional level. I’ve learned a lot more technique and ways to play effectively since my freshman year. I’ve also started working much harder. In my freshman year, I really didn’t have good practice habits. Now I practice a minimum of four hours per day—sometimes five and sometimes six,” says Christopher, who hopes to eventually earn a doctorate degree and become a well-rounded musician who accompanies, teaches on a college level and performs.
Dr. Jung, who is pleased with his improvement, says, “In his freshman year, I focused primarily on helping him with note reading, rhythmic counting, and some foundational technique.” His progress was initially slow, says Dr. Jung, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Fine Arts. However, once Christopher began practicing more, he advanced rapidly and his personality began to come through when he performed.
“His strength of piano playing is the beautiful tone,” Dr. Jung said. “His warm and rounded sound moves people’s minds. I guess it comes from his personality. He’s always smiling and cares for people.”
His emotional performance can be viewed in an uplifting YouTube video of Christopher playing at the 2013 James A. Hefner HBCU Piano Competition.
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