Cliburn Foundation YouTubes its way toward event

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BY MICHAEL H. PRICE

March 31, 2008- If the 20th-century jukebox was an ultimate artifact of democracy, enabling one to impose one’s musical tastes upon entire rooms full of other people, then online video must

be its new-century counterpart — allowing users not only to Web-cast their interests, but also to create their own performances as a mass-media manifesto: I YouTube, therefore I am.

A new campaign by Fort Worth’s Cliburn Foundation stands to ennoble YouTube to an unprecedented extent. Posing an April 30 deadline, the Cliburn YouTube Contest has invited eligible amateur pianists to submit five- to 10-minute performance videos for judging by online viewers.

The winning pianist will be entered (with the application fee waived) in 2011’s Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs — a tournament apart from the career-making Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The challenging standards of the Cliburn Foundation, in turn, weight the balance in favor of democratic opportunity over the false entitlement of egalitarianism.

The DIY, or do-it-yourself, creative imperative that has found a plateau in http://www.youtube.com actually began long before there was such a vehicle as the Internet, or even the possibility of home-canned video recording. The difference, originally, was that the early-day DIY’ers had to possess a severe commitment to their artistry, and to hard-manufacturing and distribution investments, in order to bring a recording to a state resembling general distribution.

YouTube, with its trademarked slogan of “Broadcast Yourself,” has changed all that in an irreversible rush of anyone-can-play creative energy — from undeniable artistry to slapdash dabbling — to become, in general, an un-demandingly level playing field, an ultimate artifact of egalitarianism. I speak as an involuntary YouTuber, having found at the site some of my own jazz-piano performances, captured by video-packing members of this audience or that. No harm done, of course, apart from amateurish point-and-shoot camerawork and un-engineered audio-mixing. It never hurts to have a sense of how Frank Zappa must have felt to find much of his own live-performance work bootlegged among the fans.

Bootlegging is beside the point when one Web-posts one’s own work at the behest of a renowned competitive tournament. The Cliburn YouTube Contest is open to any classical pianist, age 35 or older, who does not derive a significant income from performance, composition and/or piano instruction. Posting instructions can be found at the Cliburn Foundation’s YouTube Channel.

The purpose? “To inspire and motivate,” as the foundation marketing chief, Sevan Melikyan, puts it.

Beginning May 1, voters can go online and select contestants. Voters will register through the Cliburn’s Web site to receive a ballot via e-mail. Voting closes May 15. The address is http://www.cliburn.org.

The Cliburn Amateur match dates from 1999, a fixture of Landreth Hall at Texas Christian University. Seventy-five pianists participate in the quadrennial three-round competition. Prizes include a $2,000 championship purse. A jury typically includes gold-medalist professionals from the main-event Cliburn Competition, among other working artists and professors, with additional press juries representing the critical brethren.

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