I ended up winning the Polk piano competition that I entered on April 7, 2002. It's only the second competition I've ever been in, so I'm pretty happy. It's just that once all my friends found out about the $1,000 award, everybody's been asking me to take them to dinner. And then I say, "Nope, sorry. According to the award letter, the money has to go towards furthering my musical education. I'm a selfish rat-bastard too, so there!" Bad form too for telling someone to take you out to dinner.

In the comments from both of the judges, it surprised me that they didn't nitpick over little things, like misplayed notes. They mostly heard the bigger problems that the little things contributed to, like uneven rhythm, frantic sounds and missed chords. It's amazing how much they knew about me as a pianist from just listening to me perform. One of the judges wrote, "Make sure you understand the form of the Beethoven and its implications on the performance of the whole movement." He was spot on. I really --don't-- know the form of the whole piece, so it's been difficult to relate different sections to each other.

It's funny, but in worrying most about the little things, like notes, I didn't realize that the bigger, broader issues about performing are so much more important. All the stuff I worried about - notes and memory - are pretty unimportant until things start falling apart, and even then, it's not as big as the overall musicality of the pieces.

Biggest memories of the whole process? Performing Debussy's Reflets Dans L'eau. The performance on stage, in front of judges, will be in my memory for a very long time. In those first rippling chords, it's like I took leave of my worries, took leave of the room, and let the sounds just wash over me. I played like my practices in the auditorium, just for my own exquisite pleasure, for myself.

I also remember practicing. Practicing a lot. The kind of enjoyable practicing that comes with knowing you're making something more and more beautiful. Kind of like washing, then shining and buffing a car until the gleam's almost blinding. Now, all four pieces that I spent so much time on are hardwired into my brain. When I sit down to play them, there's no doubt in my mind over their performance.

Now, I'm just working on finishing Mendelssohn's first piano trio, which is a whole adventure and experience all in itself.