AHS senior to represent US at piano competition in Japan

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An Adairsville High senior has won the opportunity to be the United States' first representative in an international competition in Japan. 

Helen Bryant, daughter of Dr. Kerry and Kelly Bryant of Waleska, was awarded first place in the 2018 U.S. Regional Osaka International Music Competition May 12 at Georgia State University in Atlanta and will be the first U.S. delegate to ever compete in the prestigious international competition in Osaka, Japan, Oct. 4-8. 

"It felt incredibly surreal to win this competition since it is the first one that has given me the chance to compete abroad," said Helen, whose dad is the band director at AHS and mom is a professional flutist with the Atlanta Opera Orchestra. "I am overwhelmed by gratitude for all of the people who have helped me reach this point in my career, and I'm excited to see where this opportunity may take me. I feel very honored to have this opportunity, and I can only work my hardest to represent my country well."

The 17-year-old, who is the national representative for the high school division, said she wanted to compete in Osaka International "because the regional audition was held in Atlanta."

"It isn't very often that I am able to compete in an international-level competition close to home," she said. "Usually, there is a lot of travel and expense involved to compete in the preliminary and final rounds. In this case, the regional winners from all over the world automatically advance to the grand finals in Osaka. This was simply an opportunity I could not pass up."

Performing "Gavotte et six doubles" by French baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau and Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp major, Opus 78 by Ludwig van Beethoven, Helen was one of 17 pianists who competed in the U.S. regional round —12 finalists in the college division and five finalists in the high school division who were all selected from a recorded preliminary round.

Her dad said he and her mother are "very proud" of her for being selected as the U.S. high school representative, which netted her a performance with the North Georgia Chamber Symphony.  

"She played at a remarkably high level, and when they called her name as the grand-prize winner, we were thrilled," Bryant said. "We are so pleased she will carry with her the support of Bartow County and Adairsville High School. To compete on an international stage is, at this point for Helen, a once-in-a-lifetime event."

Helen, who will perform "Poem" by Armenian composer Arno Babajanyan in the grand final round of the competition, is looking forward to her first chance to compete overseas against musicians from other countries. 

"I love performing anywhere and sharing my art with others," she said, noting she's competed in international competitions in the U.S. before. "I always look forward to performing in new places with different audiences, and this is certainly the farthest from home I have ever gone to compete. I will be curious to see how the audience differs from what I am accustomed to."

The young pianist said she has "not given much thought to the idea of winning first place" in Osaka.

"This is a very big competition with incredible talent from all over the world," she said. "My focus, however, is on my continued practice and preparation to ensure my best performance possible. If that gets me to first place, great."

Because her mom has "a little more flexibility with her work schedule" than her dad does, Helen said her mom will be accompanying her on the trip.

"October is right in the middle of football and marching band season," she said. "It is the least flexible time of year for him, unfortunately. He is disappointed he can’t go, too, but I know he’ll be there in spirit and thought."

The trip will cost the pair about $5,000, and while she has the $1,500 she received  from Cooper Piano in Atlanta for winning the regional round, Helen said she's hoping to raise the remaining $3,500 by the Aug. 10 application deadline through a GoFundMe account she set up Tuesday.

"My parents spend a great deal of money for my weekly lessons, music, piano maintenance, competition fees, travel, concert attire and summer festivals for continued study," she said. "Due to the fact that I am a minor, I am required — as per competition guidelines — to be accompanied by a parent to Osaka. Either way, I'm 100 percent sure my parents would not put me on a plane to Japan for 10 days by myself." 

As of Friday afternoon, $365 had been contributed to the account in the first four days. To make a donation, visit https://www.gofundme.com/osaka-int039l-competiton-finals.

Helen, a student of Dr. Alexander Wasserman, said her piano-playing days began at the ripe old age of 8.

"Believe it or not, many in the world of classical piano consider that a late start," she said. "I spent my entire life attending operas, ballets, recitals as well as concerts — orchestra and band — so music has always been a large part of my life. My dad discovered that I had perfect pitch when I would sit down at the piano and play jazz tunes with him. I listened to a lot of piano repertoire at a young age, which really helped develop my ear and love for the instrument."

Her resume already includes numerous first-place awards, performances with different orchestras and opportunities to study with various instructors.