Talent Show Winner and Contestants
Saturday, May 8, 2004

Congratulations to Brooks E. Robertson, our first-place winner of the coveted Silver Watertower and $1,000! Sahara Smith took second place and $700. And special thanks to all the finalists for participating in this year's inspirational talent show!

Brooks E. Robertson
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Brooks E. Robertson is 14 and hails from Eugene, Oregon. He is a fingerstyle guitarist and has been playing for a little over two years. As the protégé of U.S. fingerstyle champion and Nashville great Buster B. Jones, Brooks has learned the picking styles of Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, and Jerry Reed. His goal this year is to win the fingerstyle championships this September in Winfield, Kansas. He will be performing with Buster B. Jones at the Montreal Jazz Festival in July. He has performed at the Nokie Edwards Music Festival in Eugene, the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society in Nashville, the Great Woods Music Festival in Canada, and the Guitars for Life benefit in France.


Meet the contestants

  • Sahara Smith, age 15, Wimberley, Texas

  • Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand, ages 16 and 14, Fulton, New York
  • Katie Hyun and Nathan Farrington, ages 20 and 19, Philadelphia

  • Mo Tian, age 17, Providence, Rhode Island

  • Eliot Grasso, age 20, Baltimore




  • Sahara Smith
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    Fifteen-year-old Sahara Smith is from Wimberley, Texas—a small, scenic town just outside of the Austin city limits. When not studying for school, she spends her time singing, playing music, and writing her own songs. She is largely a self-taught poet, going all the way back to second grade when her teacher, Ms. Cargill, submitted a poem Sahara had written about Texas legend Cynthia Ann Parker for publication in the Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans. When Sahara was little, her parents both sang and played guitar, and she enjoyed singing with them around the campfire for friends. When Sahara was 12 she composed what she considers to be her first true folk song, "Rite of Passage," an appropriate title for the song that would turn her into a true "folkie." Sahara creates her own folk sound drawing on influences as diverse as Celtic ballads and '60s rock and has now composed and copyrighted over 20 songs. Her public career began in the spring of 2003 when she participated in an open mic for teens at Jitas and Ritas, a local eatery. She was invited to perform regularly at the restaurant for tips and dinner, which led to a semi-regular Friday night gig at another restaurant, Baxters on Main. The following summer, Sahara was invited by a collective of artists called "Blue Fish" to perform at local music festivals held at popular Wimberley swimming holes "Blue Hole," "Little Arkansas," and "Jacob's Well." She has also performed at the Victorian Christmas celebration on 6th street in Austin, Texas.

    Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand
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    Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand of Fulton, New York, have become known for their performances in concert halls, on dance floors, and at festivals across the Northeast, where they appear together and sometimes with their mother, Kim, as the Great Bear Trio. Andrew, 16, and Noah, 14, both began taking fiddle lessons at age eight from the late Norma "Granny" Sweet. After several years they started picking up other instruments as well. Andrew is now an accomplished accompanist on guitar, bouzouki, and bass, while Noah has become proficient at African drumming and the Australian didgeridoo. Both young men compose and arrange music, drawing on the fiddling traditions of Ireland, Scandinavia, and Appalachia as their primary influences. In addition, a wide variety of more modern musical elements can also be heard in their playing, including jazz, rock, and world-beat percussion.

    Katie Hyun
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    Katie Hyun, who will turn 20 on the day of the talent show, claims her hometown as Colorado Springs, Colorado, though she has also lived in Dallas, Houston, and Sunnyvale, California. She is in her sixth year at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she studies with Pamela Frank. Katie started violin at the age of five and made her recital debut in 1991. She has performed as soloist with the Houston Symphony, Dallas Chamber Orchestra, Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra, Littleton Chamber Orchestra, Concerto Soloists Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and "Up Close and Musical," a string orchestra composed of members of the Colorado Symphony. Winner of the Philadelphia Orchestra Albert M. Greenfield Student Competition, she has also won the 2000 Concerto Soloists Young Artists Competition, the 1996 Greater Dallas Youth Concerto Competition and both the gold and bronze medals in the Houston Symphony League Competition. Katie has also performed on the television program Good Morning Texas. During the summers, she attended the Weathersfield Music Festival for a year, Encore School for Strings for two years, Kneisel Hall for four years, and Music Academy of the West for one year.

    Nathan Farrington
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    Nathan Farrington, 20, began his bass studies in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, at age 10. His first teacher was John Pellegrino, the assistant principal bassist of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. Nathan now studies at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia with Hal Robinson, principal bassist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and also with famed soloist and chamber musician Edgar Meyer. Nathan is currently a member of the Haddonfield Symphony, the Curtis Institute Symphony, and also appears as an associate with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, the Canton Symphony Orchestra, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In January of both 2003 and 2004 he was a finalist in the Philadelphia Orchestra's Albert M. Greenfield Competition. During the summer of 2003 he attended the Tanglewood Music Center as a fellow, and in November 2003 Nathan was chosen to perform the music of Aaron Copland at Carnegie Hall under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. Nathan plans to spend the summer of 2004 performing chamber music at the Marlboro Music Festival.

    Katie and Nathan are accompanied by pianist Andrew Staupe, 19, of St. Paul. Andrew studies piano with Lydia Artymiw and violin with Mark Bjork at the University of Minnesota. He is also a composer, and he sings with the U of M's Renaissance Choir, which he founded.

    Mo Tian
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    Mo Tian, 17, currently resides in Providence, Rhode Island. He was born in Siping, China, and came to the United States with his parents at the age of four. He first began studying piano at the age of 7 with Brown University student Axel Hsu. At the age of 9, he began studying with Dr. Zhanna Volynskaya and since then, has received numerous awards and prizes for his performances and competitions. In November of 2000, Mo won the MTNA Junior High RI State Division Piano Competition, then went to the Eastern Regional Division Competition and was awarded an Honorable Mention. Two years later, he was the MTNA Senior High RI State Division Piano Concerto Competition winner. That same year and the next he was the winner of the Music on the Hill Scholarship Competition and performed in the opening of the Concert of Music on the Hill with the Triple Helix Trio, and with the Northeast Quintet. Since fall of 2000, Mo has been performing a variety of classical pieces at the Chopin Student Musicians Club, a group that performs in music recitals at the Music Mansion throughout the year. He was elected vice president of the club for the 2003-2004 season. In 2001, Mo performed Chopin's Scherzo No. 2 Op. 31 in a master class for acclaimed pianist Leon Fleisher. In 2003 he worked with Jon Kimura Parker in a master class, performing Chopin's Ballade No. 1 Op. 23. Also that year, Mo began studying at the Music School of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in both solo piano and chamber music, in addition to his private lessons, and frequently performs in their chamber recitals. Most recently, he has been performing piano with the Youth Orchestra at Trinity Repertory in a production of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. Currently a senior at Classical High School, Mo has been accepted to study at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and New England Conservatory of Music and has ultimately chosen to enroll at Brown University, where he will continue his studies of applied music as well as other areas of academics.

    Eliot Grasso
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    Uilleann piper Eliot Grasso, a Baltimore native, is a third-year music major at Goucher College. Eliot began playing Irish music on the flute at age seven, tin whistle at age nine, and in 1995, at age 11, he began uilleann piping, studying piping technique with former Na Piobairi Uilleann instructor Kieran O'Hare. Since 1996 Eliot has won multiple 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place titles in the New York Fleadh Cheoil and Ireland's Fleadh Cheoil na h'Eiraenn in both the uilleann pipes and tin whistle division. Eliot has performed at such venues as the Kennedy Center, Constitution Hall, National Geographic, the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the Library of Congress, the National Building Museum, and the home of the Irish Ambassador, and for such events as the National Humanities Awards, the National Endowment for the Arts Awards, Island, the American Ireland Fund, and the America-Ireland Business Summit. In 1998 Eliot was invited by Na Piobairi Uilleann, the Pipers' Club in Dublin, to record on New Dawn, a compilation of six pipers under age 18. Eliot was not only the youngest but the sole American on this album. In 2001-2002 Eliot was invited to perform as a soloist in Famine Remembrance with members of the Washington Chamber Symphony and in Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel with the Harrisburg Symphony. As a pianist and organist, Eliot has been an active member in Goucher's music program for the past three years concentrating his efforts in performance, music history, and artistic administration. While at Goucher, he has been awarded with the Rosenberg Scholarship in music four times and is currently celebrating the release of his self-produced debut solo album, Standing Room Only, which was released in January 2004.


    Listen to the performances
    Brooks E. Robertson
    First place finalist
    • "Cannonball Rag" (Merle Travis)
    • "Eiffel Power" (Buster B. Jones)

    Sahara Smith
    Second place finalist
    • "It Don't Rain Much" (Sahara Smith)
    • "Twilight Red" (Sahara Smith)

    Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand
    Third place finalist
    • "Quickbeam"/"Gondolin" (Noah VanNorstrand)
    • "Megan's Mind" (Andrew VanNorstrand)

    Eliot Grasso
    "O'Hare's Tilt"/"The Chiaroscuro Jig"/"Jig of Quills" (Eliot Grasso)

    Katie Hyun and Nathan Farrington with Andrew Staupe
    "Grand Duo, 3rd movement" (Giovanni Bottesini)

    Mo Tian
    "Rigoletto Paraphrase" (Franz Liszt)


    Listen to the auditions
    Brooks E. Robertson
    "Jerry's Breakdown" (Jerry Reed)

    Sahara Smith
    "Twilight Red" (Sahara Smith)

    Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand
    "Bronwyn" (Andrew VanNorstrand)

    Nathan Farrington and Katie Hyun
    "Gran Duo Concertante for violin and double bass" (Bottesini)

    Mo Tian
    "Nocturne for piano in D flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2" (Friedrich Chopin)

    Eliot Grasso
    "Reels: Miss Susan Cooper/The Sandpiper/Boys of the Lough" (Ronnie Cooper/trad.)

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