CONCORD — Pianist Catharine Dornin is making a habit of being a piano finalist for the American Prize, a national music competition.
This year, Dornin was one of five finalists in the solo piano division, which has a $500 prize and wrapped up in May. Last year, she was the second runnerup in the piano concerto soloist division and a finalist in the piano solo award.
The American Prize provides cash awards, professional adjudication and regional, national and international recognition for the best recorded performances of music by ensembles and individuals each year. There are professional, college/university, church, community and secondary school levels and Dornin competes in the professional division.
The competition was established in 2009 and administered by Hat City Music Theater, a nonprofit organization based in Danbury, Conn.
Dornin speculated that the effort to honor and recognize classical musicians is at least partly a response to the focus on popular music and vocal performance in a number of television shows, including “American Idol” and “The Voice.”
For the competitions, Dornin has submitted a recording of a live concert at the Concord Community Music School and a recording of her New York debut at Carnegie Hall in 1990.
A graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory, where she studied with John Perry, Dornin has been honored for her teaching, selected as Teacher of the Year in 1996 by the New Hampshire Music Teachers Association.
Dornin has taught piano for three decades at St. Paul's School and since 1984 at the Concord Community Music School, but her true love is performance.
She has performed on television and given solo concerts at a number of colleges and universities throughout New England and at her alma mater. She was the founding accompanist for the Pemigewasset Choral Society and played for the Messiah Chorus in Concord form 2002 to 2007.
But despite her love of performing, it wasn't always easy for the mother of five. “I can remember teaching 12-hour days,” she said, and still trying to spend enough time with her children.
“They enjoy music,” she said, but none of the children became professional musicians. However, one is a website designer and two became engineers. “There is a lot of similarity,” she said, between music and math. And because Dornin's passion is classical music, many experts would say that because of the musical environment, her children had an advantage in learning math.
Dornin said the interest in learning piano has been fairly constant throughout her teaching career and students still want to learn classical pieces. At St. Paul's, she said, she does include some jazz, but classical is her strength and her personal preference.
She is about to have a lifelong desire: a Boston Piano by Steinway from Steinert's in Boston is to be delivered next Monday. “I want to have my music express my talent,” she said, and she was finally able to purchase the piano of her dreams. Perhaps next year's entry into the American Prize competition will be a recording of her performance on the new piano.