Many wish to leave a lasting mark on Abilene in an area of their passion, and that is exactly what Nelda and Eddie Hodges did when they formed the Nelda Hodges Young Artist Competition in 2008.
For more than 60 years, the Hodges were involved in the community as generous donors and innovative leaders of the Abilene Philharmonic Orchestra, Foundation, and Guild. They had a vision and saw an opportunity to help support young musicians in the Big Country by establishing the Nelda Hodges Young Artist Competition Endowment to inspire and reward young people’s love for music for generations to come.
The competition has grown through the years and now reaches to include students in seven regions in Texas between the ages of 12 and 18. The competition is biennial, and the next one is scheduled in 2020. The competition is open to students who play woodwind, brass, percussion, string and piano. Candidates are judged by a panel of distinguished musicians including Maestro David Itkin, Abilene Philharmonic music director. Winners receive a scholarship and may have an opportunity to play in a future Abilene Philharmonic performance.
“There are many young artist competitions in larger metropolitan areas like Dallas and Houston, but the Nelda Hodges YAC is a tremendous opportunity for young, committed musicians right here in the Big Country,” said Abigail Payne, education and outreach coordinator for the Abilene Philharmonic. “The Abilene Philharmonic holds itself to a high standard both in terms of artistic caliber and music education, and it is important that we have avenues like the Nelda Hodges contest, which enables us to foster and educate young musicians. The fact that we are able to offer students the same level of competition as those found in bigger cities is pretty astounding.”
This competition has seen some very talented aspiring young musicians, including 2012 Winner Halle Puckett. Now finishing up her senior year at Texas Christian University, Puckett will be returning home for one night to perform with the Abilene Philharmonic on Jan. 25 at the Abilene Convention Center.
“I feel lucky to have grown up in a city that values the arts and music so much,” Puckett said. “To have a scholarship provided by such generous donors that recognize the talent Abilene has to offer is an amazing thing. So, I would say to anyone interested in competing: it is our job, as the new generation, to keep classical music alive in Abilene and the world. And, of course, have fun doing it!”
Puckett will be performing Beethoven Concerto No. 5, Emperor, which is her favorite concerto.
“We couldn’t think of a better opening show to ring in the New Year than to bring back one of Abilene’s favorite musicians and a previous Nelda Hodges winner given the next competition is just around the corner. It means so much to us to have talented musicians that grew up in Abilene, see them further their career in music and return home. It really speaks to the level of talent that we see not only in aspiring musicians but the talented orchestra that we have in our town,” said Kevin Smith, executive director of the Abilene Philharmonic.