Memorial Festival and Competition Marks 40 Years

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Photo courtesy of Matt Cataldi.

The 40th annual Rebecca Orr Memorial Piano Technique Festival and Scholarship Competition took place on Saturday, February 25th, 2023, in Radford University’s Davis Performance Hall in the Covington Center. The event is sponsored by the Highlands Chapter of the Virginia Music Teachers Association and draws students from around the region.

Nitza Kats, a member of the Highlands Chapter and an Emeritus Associate Professor of Music at Radford University, founded the event in 1983 to honor its talented namesake in a meaningful way.

Kats described Rebecca Orr as an exceptionally talented and dedicated student from Blacksburg just beginning life at Oberlin College, where she was accepted at the school’s Conservatory of Music.

“Although still undecided between majoring in mathematics or physics, she knew that she wanted to continue with her piano studies,” said Kats.

“Tragically, her dreams were cut short as she was killed by a drunk driver while jogging on campus in spring 1982.”

As a living memorial, the festival has served the area for four decades. Many students participate annually to improve their musical and technical piano skills.

This year, more than 80 young pianists participated in the festival, which is open to all students of the Highlands Chapter regardless of experience, skill or age. Participants prepare and perform carefully graded piano technique routines, an etude, and may offer their own composition as a “Technique Adventure.”

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Photo courtesy of Matt Cataldi

Highlands Chapter members judge individual auditions. Following the auditions, students perform in public recitals in the Davis Performance Hall in Radford University’s Covington Center. All students receive certificates of participation and the judges’ written comments.

High school juniors and seniors may participate in the Rebecca Orr Memorial Scholarship Competition. Kats says the competitors serve as role models to aspiring future candidates.

This year, Cecilia Crawford, a student of Mary Louise Hallauer, took first prize in the scholarship competition.

Dr. Matt Cataldi is an Assistant Professor in Radford’s Music Department and currently serves as President of the Highlands Chapter of the VMTA and as chair of the festival.

"The festival and scholarship competition remain a longstanding testament to Southwest Virginia's commitment to excellence in piano instruction,” Cataldi noted.

“We are lucky to have such a vibrant musical community right here in our backyard, with a promising generation of young musicians under the wings of wonderful teachers."

Feb 27, 2023
Sean Kotz