Karin Kelly

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Thursday June 3, 2004 9:40 a.m. Central Daylight Time

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FW competition brings together amateur pianists from across globe

02:22 AM CDT on Tuesday, June 1, 2004

By KARIN KELLY / WFAA-TV

In Fort Worth, hundreds of people spent the holiday listening to live performances of piano music, played by ordinary folks with extraordinary talent.

Monday was the first day of the Van Cliburn Foundation's Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs. Taking the stage this week are 74 competitors from six countries.

Anne Blakeney, a Dallas homemaker, is one of 10 Texans.

"You're in the dark and then you walk out and the stage is very bright.

"You know, I didn't want to get up on stage," Blakeney said. "That was the last thing I wanted to do. What I wanted to do was meet all these incredible people."

There are heart surgeons, realtors and radio hosts, who all share a passion for music.

Some find even more passion while they're here. Greg Smith and Miho Yamada Fisher met as competitors in 1999, and ended up getting married. Now Denton residents, they will perform again.

"On the stage is when she fell in love with me," Smith said.

Nerve-racking as it is, the 74 competitors won't find out until Wednesday who will be among the 16 who advance to the semi-finals. By Saturday the field narrows to six for the finals.

When Blakeney's 12 minutes ended, she ran with joy toward the Dallas family and friends who drove to Fort Worth to support her. She just completed a huge goal, one of three to achieve before age 60.

"One was to sing the Messiah in Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, and I did that after 9-11," Blakeney said. "And I climbed one of Colorado's 14,000-foot mountains."

The piano competition may have been short on stage, but it's certainly long on satisfaction.

"I mean, it's 12 minutes that I've just got to seal in my memory forever," Blakeney said.

There are two competitors from Dallas; besides Blakeney, businessman Regan Smith performs tomorrow night. Oddly enough, Smith and Blakeney live on the same street.

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