WFU music students compete in annual competition

The Giles-Harris Music Competitions allow student musicians to perform for cash prizes


Jean Trowbridge

The competitors in the piano contest pose together.

Kathleen Kerr, Contributing Writer

 Wake Forest University music department students participated in the 45th Annual Giles-Harris Music Competitions on Feb. 19 in Brendle Hall. 

The competitions were funded by a donation from alumnus Paul Sinal in honor of his piano teacher at Wake Forest, Christopher Giles. They were later renamed the Giles-Harris competitions after retired piano teacher Lucille Harris. Sinal and other donors supplied the prize money to make the competitions possible. 

Students enrolled in music lessons at Wake Forest were given the opportunity to prepare pieces and perform in front of accomplished musicians from the region. Seven prizes were awarded — two $1000 prizes and five $500 prizes. 

“The competitions are an opportunity for a student to put that extra polish on their music and to really focus to the utmost on their performances,” Music Department Chair Peter Kairoff said. “Really, all the students are winners, in a way, because they push themselves to achieve a level they might not have otherwise. They really rise to the challenge, and it’s great to see how well our students are able to perform.”

The awards ceremony was held after both competitions. In the piano competition, junior Eric Wang won the first place Paul Sinal Prize, senior Liat Klopouh won the second place Marc and Kirk Elvy Award, and freshman Katherina Tsai won the Ward Virts Prize for Pianistic Expressiveness.

In the open competition, senior Brianna Coppolino won the first place Joseph Pleasant Sloan & Marguerite Nutt Sloan Award, and sophomore Jacob Kathman won the second place Patricia Sloan Mize Award. Sophomore Nicole Namath won the Richard Heard Award for Outstanding Performance by a Singer, and freshman Kyria Pidherny won the Award for Outstanding Performance by a Non-Music Major.

Tsai started playing classical piano in the first grade as a way to participate and serve in her church. She now appreciates that the competitions allow her to watch and listen to her peers perform.

“I got involved with Giles-Harris to connect with the music community on Wake Forest’s campus and to be able to witness my peers’ talent in different instrumental and vocal areas,” Tsai said.

Klopouh was also looking forward to hearing her peers’ musical talents.

“I think I’m most excited to hear other students in the department perform,” Klopouh said. “Scales is a funny place because we see the same people walking in and out all the time, but we never get to hear them play unless there’s an event.”

Klopouh began playing the piano when she was four years old after her parents enrolled her in lessons. She has participated in the Giles-Harris competitions each year since she was a freshman.

“It’s a great opportunity to set a goal to keep myself accountable and practice consistently,” Klopouh said.

She continued: “I don’t major or minor in music here so I appreciate the department giving non-majors an opportunity to participate.”

Wang also started playing the piano when he was young and spent a lot of time playing during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. At Wake Forest, Wang takes lessons with Dr. Larry Weng, an assistant professor of piano, who encouraged him to enter the competition. Wang also enjoys playing the piano in Benson and for the patients at the hospital where he volunteers.

“I always enjoy sharing my music, whether it’s with judges, such as at the competition, with my peers or with the public,” Wang said.

He continued: “Due to the pandemic, performance opportunities for amateur musicians like me aren’t exactly abundant, so I’m just excited about the opportunity to play my music for more people.”

To see more events from the music department, visit their Instagram: @wfumusic.