The role she plays as coordinator for the Young Artists Competition, sponsored by the Peoria Symphony Guild, is vital. These are busy times for Sandy Peterson, who has volunteered in this capacity for 16 of the competition’s 48 years.

Her work for the Guild actually begins in late summer, following a planning session with the Guild chairperson for the Student Concerts, another Symphony Guild undertaking scheduled for later in the season. Dates for the Young Artists Competition are slated for soon after the first of the year to allow at least two months for the winner to prepare and practice with the orchestra. This year, the competition is January 11, and while the Peoria Symphony Orchestra Student Concerts are usually in March, the 2003 concerts are scheduled for April 28 and 29 to accommodate a District 150 testing format.

Peterson’s first duties entail finding a suitable location, establishing a date, and making arrangements with management at the site of the competition, tending to details such as piano tuning, practice rooms, seating, and equipment. Illinois Central College and its Lecture Recital Hall nicely fill all of the stringent requirements, and will once again award an encore to the musicians for this 48th Artists Competition.

Meanwhile, Mary Stark has composed letters apprising all school personnel within the 50-mile radius of Peoria of the stipulations regarding the competition, as well as the Student Concerts. Flyers are enclosed for bulletin boards, alerting students in grades 3 through 12 of the forthcoming prestigious contest. Applications for the candidates are also included in the mailing; this time around, they had to be returned with a $15 fee to the Peoria Symphony office by December 6.

Once the applications have been returned, Peterson schedules the contestants for the day of the competition, starting at 9 a.m., and allowing 10 minutes for each performance. Peoria Symphony Director David Commanday requires the music they’ve selected be approved beforehand. Contestants are also responsible for their own accompanists.

On the day of the competition, students begin arriving any time after 7:30 a.m. to allow themselves practice time and time to get a feel for the arena. They come laden with their music and instruments, and accompanied by their instructors and family members. They have a challenging event ahead of them, and even these well-practiced and confident youngsters are a bit anxious.

And who are the judges for the competition? “This area abounds in well-qualified people in their respective fields,” Peterson said. “Judges are determined after the applications have been categorized, and we strive for a good cross-section. We like to place pianists, violinists, horn virtuosos—whatever their calling—on our four- to five-member panel to give all contestants full representation of their particular artistry. We have no shortage of well-earned talent in our communities, and we try to give due consideration to students and professionals.”

After the young artists have auditioned on the stage of the Lecture Recital Hall—the judges are their only audience—judges adjourn to choose and announce their selections. Finalists are invited to compete at 1 p.m., this time with parents, family, instructors, judges, and the public in attendance. Then, everyone awaits the name of the Young Artist the judges concur has won the day. Some years more than one achieves the coveted goal. No matter the outcome, each of the students is presented a written critique.

The lucky winner will be soloist with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra Student Concerts, when all of their peers, instructors, and families will witness their superior musicianship. Good camaraderie with young people is one of Commanday’s fortes, and he takes great pleasure in arranging a program to meet the musical demands of such a varied age span.

The winner of the competition also is an honored guest performer for the Peoria Symphony Guild’s annual spring luncheon. The Alice Oakley Memorial Scholarship, named for a past president and the Young Artists Competition founder, is presented at that time.

Once the outstanding young artists from this area have been given their due, Stark takes the baton to complete the myriad details for the Student Concerts which take place in April. But that’s another story. AA!