Going for the gold
McLean students compete for performing arts scholarship
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This March, McLean students participated as finalists in the James C. MacDonald Scholarship Competition, hosted by the McLean Community Center. The competition recognizes talent in performing arts and students compete in 4 categories: dance, instrumental music, vocal music, and theater. Students who competed in the finals were among the top three in their category during the preliminary round.
Senior Madeleine Walker was a finalist in the dance category and placed first in the finals, receiving a $1200 scholarship. As dancer at the Washington Ballet, Walker says that participating in competitions like the MacDonald Scholarship is a much-appreciated departure from her typical dance experience.
“The first piece I performed was a variation from a neoclassical ballet called ‘Who Cares?,’” Walker said. “The music is by Gershwin and it is super jazzy and fun; it’s not the type of thing one thinks about when they think ballet. I loved being able to be a bit sassy, and also doing jazzier steps and turns that we don’t normally do in ballet class.”
Walker also says that the competition was a chance for her to dance as an individual.
“[The Scholarship was] a great opportunity to perform as a soloist, which I almost never get at Washington Ballet. It’s also great because it is close and free so all your friends can come!” Walker said. “Some people hate performing onstage solo, but I can’t get enough of it. This incredibly energy comes over me when I dance by myself for an entire audience, especially when I get to do pieces that I choose for myself.”
Like Walker, junior Philena Sun, a competitor in the instrumental music category for piano, says that performing solo for a large audience is one of her favorite parts of practicing her art.
“One of my favorite parts about piano is definitely sharing music with other people,” Sun said. “I have performed at several different senior living residences throughout the years, and it’s incredibly fulfilling to share your own art with other people.”
Sun received second place in her category and was awarded $800 in scholarship money. However, she says that beyond the actual competition itself, she enjoys piano because of the nonstop learning experience she gains from it.
“I think the experience of learning pieces is the most enjoyable and fruitful,” Sun said. “Some people view competitions as a culmination of their work, but I think the process of continuous exploration is more important.”
Both Walker and Sun had to dedicate lots of time to practicing and perfecting their performances. This process was a challenge for them, given their busy schedules and numerous other commitments.
“The rigor of junior year classes and running different clubs has definitely carved away time that I used to reserve for practicing piano,” Sun said. “I have to establish longer-term plans for my practice schedule in order to make sure my pieces are performance-ready for competitions such as this one.”
Walker already has long ballet rehearsals, so preparing for this competition meant that she had to extend her time at ballet every day.
“I only felt like I could actually do the steps in my ballet piece a few days before the competition, which was quite anxiety-provoking,” Walker said. “Also I am already so stretched for time because of my normal ballet and school schedule that getting to ballet early to run my pieces everyday was another stressor.”
Along with Walker and Sun, other finalists from McLean included senior Syona Ayyankeril (2nd place, vocal music), junior Kathleen Tiernan (2nd place, dance), sophomore Ann Nichols Gardner (1st place, theatre), sophomore Carenna Slotkoff (3rd place, theatre and vocal music), and sophomore Isabella Swigart (3rd place, dance).