Altoona pianist makes second trip to Taiwan

For the second time in eight years, Altoona piano teacher Carole Parsons traveled to Taiwan during the summer as a judge for the National Guild of Piano Teachers.

Once there, she spent five weeks traveling the country, an island republic about the size of Maryland – with more than 23 million people – which is adjacent to mainland China.

During that trip, she judged 500 students on their piano skills, letting those students know what they need to work on.

“I literally judged my way around the entire country,” Parsons said. “I felt so thoroughly honored to be asked back a second time.”

Parsons previously traveled to Taiwan in 2005.

During this summer’s trip, Parsons also taught a one-day workshop for a group of about 35 piano teachers.

“I wanted to share new literature, new books with their teachers,” she said.

Some things were noticeably different than the last time she was there, and others hadn’t changed at all, she said. She was surprised that the cost of her hotel, the same one she stayed at before, hadn’t changed. But the students, who ranged in age from very young to college level, were speaking much better English and it was easier to talk to them.

Their piano skills were about on par with their American counterparts, she said. She judged the students on such things as keeping the right tempo and how they held their fingers when they played. As before, the students were very kind, just like the adults she met along the way.

“They’re so into being gracious and grateful for everything you do,” said Parsons, who again received many gifts from her hosts in Taiwan.

As one guild-member piano teacher wrote in a blog, the judges are often from out of town and don’t know the students and can therefore be impartial. Dan Severino, who has a studio in Wexford, has judged students all across Pennsylvania and said he has been involved with the guild for many years.

“The judges chosen for the auditions are chosen with great care,” he said in his blog. “Often, they are college professors with a special interest in seeing students in their early years of study.”

Barbara Weller Crain, the guild’s local chairman, echoed Severino’s sentiments. She said Parsons’ selection as a judge, especially her opportunity to return to Taiwan for a second round of judging, is rare.

“It’s quite a plum,” Crain said. “To have a big assignment like this, and for a second time, is unusual.”

Crain said most judges stay within their own territory. For example, she travels only within Pennsylvania and the neighboring states of Ohio, Maryland and Delaware. Only a handful of judges travel outside their area to other regions of the U.S. or to other countries, Crain said.

But Parsons is definitely qualified for the job, Crain said. Parsons was a professor of music for several years at Penn State University and has a doctorate of education with a music minor from Penn State.

“She’s a very fair judge,” Crain said, “and the kids really like her. She has a knack for being businesslike, but she also puts the kids at ease.”