Music to their ears: Local students earn high marks in national performance competition

By Michael Beadle

Watch out Broadway. Get Carnegie Hall ready.

A trio of Haywood County students recently ranked themselves among the highest in the state and nation in last year’s youngARTS scholarship program, a music competition involving 8,000 students.

Brainard Burrus, a Pisgah High School senior, scored an “8” out of “10” in the popular piano category, which was the highest ranking for any student in the U.S. in that category. Amy Shuford, a Tuscola High School senior, earned five stars in the vocal category, while Forrest Ransburg, a home-schooled student, won six stars for his vocal and flute playing. Both placed in the upper half of all students in the nation.

All three are using their recent scores to help vault them through auditions for scholarships from prestigious colleges. Shuford has plans to major in vocal performance and is looking at UNC-Greensboro, Western Carolina University and East Carolina University. Ransburg, who decided this summer to complete high school early by merging his junior and senior years into one year, has been auditioning and applying to Julliard and the Cincinnati Conservatory as well as UNC-Greensboro.

Burrus, meanwhile, has been looking at Princeton, Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill, according to his music teacher, Carol Gore. Gore has been Burrus’ music teacher since he was six years old. She also coaches Shuford and Ransburg.

“I’m extremely proud of them,” said Gore.

To have three students from the same county place high in the national competition — especially with one ranking tops in the nation — is quite a feat, Gore said.

The scholarship competition, which is sponsored by the National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts, gave out a myriad of scores and awards. The top finalists won an all-expense paid trip to compete in Miami for college scholarships from the top music programs in the nation.

The whole process required a huge time commitment. After rehearsing for weeks, the students recorded audio tapes of their work, critiqued them and submitted their best pieces in early November. The scores and awards were announced in December.

Students had to submit pieces from different time periods or music styles. Shuford, for example, had to work on pieces from three different languages. She chose French, Italian and English — plus a musical theatre piece from “Phantom of the Opera.”

Shuford sings in Tuscola’s Summit and Chamber choirs as well as her church, Maple Grove United Methodist. She started taking private voice lessons with Gore a few years back. Shuford said the competition taught her a great deal of discipline.

“If you don’t practice,” she said, “somebody is going to take your place.”

Ransburg, who started the school year as junior at Tuscola, decided to graduate early this year with an intensive study schedule that included up to nine hours of rehearsal time.

“I don’t really sleep much anymore,” he joked.

His repertoire includes 17th century pieces which come to him as naturally as most teens his age might take to a Play Station 3.

“That’s just what I do,” he said.

Burrus, who is no stranger to the spotlight, started playing the piano at the age of 3 and started taking lessons by first grade. He’s been performing in MusicWorks in Waynesville and in the Orion music theatre program at Pisgah High School. Last summer, he was one of the Jets in the smash summer hit “West Side Story” at Haywood Arts Regional Theatre. This fall, he performed in Orion’s production of “Moby Dick: the Musical” Humbled by his recent accolades, he thrives on stage, whether he’s pounding the keys to “Great Balls of Fire” or rehearsing the choreography for an upcoming musical.

Wherever he winds up in college, he’s looking at majoring in biology or physics along with music.

“I’m interested in a lot of different things,” he said. “Performing is what I enjoy the most.”

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