|James Hunter Morris
THE WINNER OF THE 2018 DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
James Hunter Morris is 19 years old, born in Newark, New Jersey. He attends Westminster Choir College of Rider University. James is currently a junior completing a Piano and Theory Composition degree. Currently studying with Professor Ingrid Clarfield for Piano and Stefan Young for Composition. He has performed many compositions at various venues by Mozart, Beethoven, Grieg, Liszt and Chopin. James' style and influence can be attributed to his inspiration of composers; Mozart and Chopin. He has composed multiple pieces registered in the Library of Congress....a String Quartet, Nocturne, and Etude. All compositions were composed without any assistance and were inspired by his attractions.
James has been awarded 5 Gold Medal for the State of New Jersey. One in the category of music composition and two for instrumental classical for the State of New Jersey, NAACP ACT-SO competition. He also has achieved the 2 honors at the 2015 NAACP Act So National competition. James received a Gold and Silver Medal for his Compositions and a Bronze Medal for Instrumental Classical for the New Jersey Newark Act-So. James has also placed first in the Westminster Piano Competition in 2017(freshman) and 2018 (sophomore) and placed second in the Westminster composition competition in 2018. He was also a recipient for The Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship in 2018. This summer James studied at Brevard Music Festival with Dr. Jihye Chang-Sung for piano.
His goal and aspiration is to become a concert pianist and composer, committing to educating himself and improving as an artist.
I'm extremely grateful to Mrs.Clarfield for awarding The Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship to me. Hearing stories and reading about Damien Dixon has really showed me that being a pianist is not just about playing notes fast and accurately. But about the journey, connections, experience and so much more that will show in the musical aspect of my playing. I will continue to carry out his will of using the piano “to stir up the emotions of the listeners.” Once again it's truly a honor to receive this award and I'll strive for greater heights of musicianship to continue his legacy.
|Richmond Denzel Garrick & Jianyu Zhao
THE WINNERS OF THE 2017 DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
Richmond Denzel Garrick is an aspiring classical pianist. He has studied the Piano & Pipe Organ privately. Presently, he is a student at Westminster Choir College, majoring in Piano Performance under the guidance of Professor Ingrid Clarfield, a nationally recognized teacher, clinician, pianist, and author.
Richmond has performed in numerous piano recitals and the “Associated Music Teachers League”, recently selected him after auditioning, to play in a ‘Young Musicians Concert’ in Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall.
He has done three annual solo piano recitals between 2011-2015 at the United Methodist Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey and Christ The King Episcopal Church on Charleston Road, in Burlington, New Jersey. Richmond also received an outstanding honor from the New Jersey State Governor, Chris Christie, for his musical accomplishments.
His outstanding performance at the Regional Piano Competition of the “National Association of Negro Musicians” earned him a second place position. He was also one of the three top finalist at the “National Princeton Piano Festival” in June 2010 and he also received Honorable Mention at the “West Chester University Annual Piano Competition” in 2011, hosted by West Chester University. He was also awarded the Robert B. and Frances Tice-Claytor Endowed Scholarship along with first place in the Sophmore Division for Westminster Piano Competition from Rider University in this spring semester. Past accomplishments include a Gold Star from South Jersey Music Teachers Association, as well as honors from the New Jersey Music Teachers Association. He finds time to entertain the elderly residents at the Monroe Village Rehabilitation Center, Merwick Care & Rehabilitation in Princeton, and Care One in Moorestown.
In 2011, just after the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone, Richmond had the unique opportunity during an emotional visit to his parents homeland, to meet his grand parents for the first time and also performed at St. Georges Cathedral, in the capital city of Freetown.
Judges have praised his musicality, technical confidence, sensitivity, artistic maturity and charisma in auditions and competitions. They believe “He is on his way to becoming a fantastic pianist.”
My name is Jianyu Zhao. I am a rising Senior at Westminster Choir College. I am majoring in Piano Performance and studying with Mrs. Clarfield. I come from Qihe county, Shandong Province, China. Neither of my parents are musicians; they both majored in history and are teachers at school. I am the first musician in my family and my younger sister also comes into the music area later. In my childhood, I enjoyed listening to music, especially the soft music because it made me calm and happy. My mother told me that music could make me stop crying when I was a baby.
I began to play the piano at the age of 7. I have studied with Professor Kangwei Hou, a well-known music educator at Shandong University, for 11 years. He not only taught me how to play the piano but also taught me the character a person as well as a musician should have. I have been studying with Mrs. Clarfield since I came to Westminster Choir College in 2014. I made the connection with her through emails in 2013. At that time, I was applying for Westminster Choir College but the admissions office kept telling me that they could not find my application materials. In this circumstance, Mrs. Clarfield went to the office and found my materials. Therefore, I got the chance to study at Westminster Choir College because of her help. Mrs. Clarfield is a great teacher. She is humorous, enthusiastic, energetic and encouraging. I appreciate her enthusiasm of music and teaching. I have learned a lot from her, for instance, the better understanding of different music compositions, the technique of using pedals, the attitude and technique of teaching and so on. Although I am in America by myself, her kindness makes me feel at home and not so lonely.
I had many performance experience and I attended lots of musical activities. I have been an accompanist on Sunday in the church since I was 9 years old. I won the Bronze Medal in “Children's Music Festival and Performance of Shandong Province for the 10th Anniversary of HongKong's Return to China”. I was a volunteer of the school donation for the local nursing home and I played piano solo in it. I served as a soloist and accompanist of Christmas carols during the Christmas music concert for students. I got the First Prize in the No.1 High School of Qihe County Shandong Province entrance examination of arts. It was face to all the art students from different middle schools in Qihe county. When I was in high school, I taught piano lessons to primary school students during the summer vacations. I accompanied the choir that attend the “Eighth Chinese excellent talent students' show activity Shandong Province Division in Senior high school” and they won the gold medal.
I feel greatly honored by receiving the “Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship”. I was deeply moved when Mrs. Clarfield sent me his quote :“ The Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship is given to a pianist for whom the piano is more than just a major. The pianist worthy of this award plays with imagination and personality and uses the piano to stir up the emotions of the listener.” Such beautiful and inspiring words is a special honor to the pianist who receives this scholarship. Playing the piano plays a significantly crucial role in my life. I am fond of music because it can share my happiness and sadness. Music is a gift from God and a language without words. Praising the Lord for leading me to Westminster Choir college and to study the piano with Mrs. Clarfield. I want to give thanks to Damien and Mrs. Clarfield for offering me this special honor. This is precious and I will always cherish it. Thanks for all the donors of the “Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship”; your generous support for musicians is really encouraging. This honor will frequently motivates me to become an outstanding musician in the future.
THE WINNER OF THE 2016 DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
I started playing the piano at the age of 12, much to my own dismay. My mother and
brother signed me up for a lesson without telling me, and when that fateful Monday finally came
I was kicking and screaming. Why would I want to do something so boring as classical music?
Who wants to play the piano anyway? Well, after the first lesson I said that I would give it
another shot, one more lesson to see how I really felt. After that second lesson I had fallen
hopelessly in love with the notion of being a pianist, and after one year of lessons I felt a new
multitude within my everyday thought. That new multitude was, and is, the sound world of
I have given concerts all over the NYC metropolitan area, some most notable ones being
at the Salvation Army Citadel in Montclair, New Jersey as well as the First Presbyterian Church
in Caldwell, NJ. I am a published composer and have also started my own record label having
currently produced three albums which have been released all over online stores. My music
has traveled as far as Uganda and my music has had premieres in places such as Yale
University, Princeton University, and soon to be Strasbourg France. I have had the honor of
winning a number of competitions, scholarships and awards, and have competed in composition
and piano competitions alike. I am currently a rising Junior double major at Westminster Choir
College studying Piano and Music Composition.
We as pianists, and as musicians, aspire to communicate our passion in our
performance, for our art is a communicative one. When I heard Damien’s famous quote, "play
with imagination and personality", I was humbled for I could not think of a better way to put it. If
we are honest in the moments of the music, and honest in our study and craft, then we will be
able to communicate our music in the same world of effect that Damien once did. This
scholarship has inspired me to charge on into the days ahead of me, pursuing real work and
true music, music that will speak to those who I am seeking to speak to. I am honored to have
received this award, I cannot fully put my feelings into words.
THE WINNER OF THE 2015 DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
My name is Robert Colby-Witanek, and I am a senior at Westminster Choir College, majoring in piano and studying with Mrs. Ingrid Clarfield. I have had an interest in music for as long as I can remember and started taking piano lessons when I was four years old. I studied with Borka Zivanovic for most of my childhood. Learning new pieces always excited me, and I frequently picked ambitious repertoire – I liked the challenge and the diversity of repertoire. I also have always enjoyed working with other musicians – no matter what skill level there is always something I can learn from the experience.
Throughout my childhood, I frequently played piano at nursing homes. Starting in sixth grade, I did various accompanying work for choirs and for rehearsals for school musical productions. Both my middle school and high school choir directors frequently chose to have me accompany at choral concerts. In 2011, my choral director sent a letter of recommendation for me to attend Composition Week and Piano Camp at Westminster Choir College, experiences which have really helped me to build my musicianship. I had not been taking piano lessons at the time, but I was fortunate to meet Kristen Topham at piano camp, and I began taking lessons with her to prepare for college auditions.
In college, I continue to accompany, and have played for choral rehearsals, voice lessons, and vocal performances in studio and performance classes, and I have given vocal coaching. I also tutor music theory and piano. Working with the faculty of Westminster Choir College has truly helped me to explore different perspectives on music and performance, as well as building the skills that are relevant to the type of work that I am interested in doing. I have recently had the honor of playing in Weill Recital Hall for the Young Musicians Concert. In addition, while my heavy involvement in choir during high school was my original reason for wanting to go to Westminster Choir College, my experiences in Symphonic Choir have reminded me why choir is so important to me and what it truly means to be a musician.
All this has helped me along on my continuing journey to develop a better understanding for music, for what it does for me, and for what it means to share a connection with an audience and to express myself through music. Music has helped me through many difficult times in my life, and I want to be able to pass that on to other people and to continue to use it as a medium of self-expression. It is experiences like these that allow me to, as Damien Dixon said, “play with imagination and personality.” I am honored and thankful to Mrs. Clarfield for naming me for this award, to Damien Dixon for providing such inspiring words for me to continue to live by, and to those who donated to the scholarship.
THE WINNER OF THE 2014 DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
Greetings! My name is Katianne Janney. I am a Senior at Westminster Choir College and am double-majoring in piano and music education. I am a Resident Advisor, the president of WCC’s cNAfME Chapter 183 and an Andrew J. Rider Scholar. I grew up in Pennsylvania and am the second oldest of seven children. As a homeschooled student, I was always encouraged to follow my calling and pursue my interests until I could no more. Though I began playing the piano when I was 6 years old, I first became interested in pursuing piano at a higher level when I entered high school. That summer, I began looking for a new teacher. After weeks of searching, I finally found a lady in a neighboring town and scheduled a trial lesson. Upon meeting her, our personalities immediately clicked. I was excited and overjoyed – I had finally found a teacher!
Three days later, my father was diagnosed with cancer. For obvious reasons, my parents called my new teacher stating that I would not be taking music lessons. I was devastated. Did this mean that my music lessons would stop, never again to restart?
On Sunday, the beginning of a new week, this new piano teacher telephoned my mother. Even though she barely knew me, she offered to give me piano lessons in exchange for babysitting. This was the first time that my mother cried. Music held me together during my Dad’s cancer, giving me the means to escape my circumstances and deal with life. Whenever I was disturbed by Dad’s failing condition and waning health, whenever I couldn’t handle the fact that he couldn’t get out of bed and couldn’t talk because of the pain, I could express my pent-up emotions through the smooth black and white keys. When my Dad entered into remission, when he learned to walk again, when he could return back to work and resume normal activities, the piano received my joy and delight. Praise be to God – he is now in his 6th year of remission with no sign of the cancer returning.
Since music helped me cope with circumstances that were beyond my control, as a career, I want to overcome the poverty of the human spirit by making the artistic dreams of underserved, underprivileged children come true. Ideally, I want to establish an organization that provides scholarship and opportunity for children and young adults to study the arts through private instruction, master classes, performance/showcase opportunities, and community-outreach programs. I want to motivate these students to then, in turn, transform their own communities through the arts.
I study music so that I can make a difference in the lives of others by empowering them through the arts.
So that finances will not hinder me in my ability to serve others, I am attempting to graduate from Westminster debt-free. I greatly thank you for helping me reach my goals. Your generous donation towards the Damien Dixon Scholarship has brought my dream closer to reality. I am so encouraged that you care about the future graduates of Westminster. May you be richly blessed as you continue to fuel the visions and aspirations of the next generation.
THE WINNER OF THE 2013 DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
My name is Matthew Gutwald, and I am a recent graduate of Westminster Choir College. During my undergraduate years, I studied as a Piano major with Mrs. Clarfield. I have studied piano from when I was 8 years old, and have loved it every step of the way. While in middle school, I received first prize in the county and state level of a Teen Arts Festival held in New Jersey. I have performed in many Young Musicians recitals throughout high school, and played piano regularly in school productions of musicals and concerts. Before I came to Westminster, I was awarded first prize in three performance scholarship competitions for high school seniors. I attended the Piano Camp founded and ran by Mrs. Clarfield my junior and senior year, and that experience has led me to four wonderfully musical years under her instruction at Westminster. While an undergraduate, I placed first in the Westminster Scholarship Competition in 2010, and second in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, I had the great honor of performing at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall part of the 78th AMTL Young Musicians Concert. I currently have my own private piano studio, and I am a faculty member of Musicians in the Making in West Windsor, NJ.
Music has always been a big part of my life. It was my outlet and my escape from anything and everything in the world. It is truly the greatest feeling in the world to be able to pour your heart and soul into an instrument and share your emotions to anyone listening through music. I first heard of this award as a freshman at Westminster, and after listening to Damien’s words, I strived to be a better musician and live up to those expectations. He beautifully summarized exactly what every pianist should do: “to play with imagination and personality.” Whenever I sit down to play anything at the piano, I always put myself emotionally into the music, and my goal is to pull emotions out of the listener. I am incredibly humbled and honored to have received this award in my final year as an undergraduate. I feel as if I have learned the most important lesson there is when it comes to performing music, and I want to thank both Damien and Mrs. Clarfield for guiding me to where I am.
THE WINNER OF THE 2012 DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
My name is Raymond Nugent. I was raised in Red Bank, NJ and graduated from Red Bank Regional High School in 2010. In high school, I was a piano major for four years and part of Tri-M Music Honor Society. I achieved several awards in high school, including the Most Promising Pianist Award, the Artist-Scholar Award, the Music Theorist Award, Most Outstanding Pianist Award, and second place in a scholarship competition. I first met Mrs. Clarfield when I played for her in a master class my junior year of high school, and then came to know her much better when I attended the Westminster Choir College’s Piano Camp. When applying for colleges started, I knew I wanted to study at Westminster with Mrs. C. I am now a junior at Westminster Choir College. I placed second in the freshman level Annual Piano Competition and honorary mention in sophomore level competition. I’ve played in several performance classes throughout my first two years and gave my Junior Piano Recital during spring semester of my sophomore year. I also enjoy accompanying for several undergraduate students on campus, and last semester I was the accompanist for the Westminster Conservatory Collegiate Chorale. Besides piano, I am also a second year member of the Westminster Concert Handbell Choir.
Receiving this award is such a great honor for me. I had known of the award, of Damien, and I have known several previous recipients of the award but actually being part of this group of immensely musical and talented pianists has left me in awe. When I perform, like so many other musicians, I feel my main goal is to play with as much musical style and emotion as I can, and the more I do this the more I captivate my audience. I understand that Damien was known for catching his audience’s attention the second he took his first bow and kept it until his final bow almost every time he played – something I will always strive for. Knowing the kind of musician Damien was, I will always have the utmost appreciation for being a recipient of this award and for all of those who have and will have the honor of receiving it.
THE WINNER OF THE 2011 DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
My name is Josh Wilson and I am currently a rising sophomore at Westminster Choir College studying Piano with Professor Ingrid Clarfield. I am from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and has been studying piano for 8 years. I attended Piano camp for two summers and had great experiences which drew me to Westminster and Mrs. Clarfield. I perform an annual Christmas Recital at Kirkland Village in Bethlehem, PA where my Grandmother lives I also play for church every fourth Sunday. Other than piano, I play trombone and has been to P.M.E.A. All-State Band and many other music festivals during high school. With his high school’s ensemble, The Liberty High School Grenadier Band, I have performed on the Battleship Missouri in Pearl Harbor, The Tournament of Roses Parade, and The Fortissimo ceremonies on Parliament hill in Canada with Her Majesties Coldsteam Guards. Outside of music, Josh is an avid runner, competing in both track and cross country placing in states two years in a row. During his freshman year at Westminster, Josh placed third in the Westminster Piano competition and also placed in the Associated Music Teachers League Young Musicians Competition and was selected to play in Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall.
This award is very important to me because it reflects heavily on my playing style at the piano. When I play the piano, I recreate a huge orchestra in my head. I will practice for hours and hours to work on the notes, the phrasing, articulations, dynamics and all sorts of things. However, when it is time to perform the piece, I will think about none of these things. Musicality takes over. Hitting all the notes comes secondary to the emotion and musicality that is conveyed through the music. Damien played with this philosophy too. When Mrs. Clarfield told me I had received this award, I was in awe. She once said “He wasn’t the cleanest pianist...” A complement I have been told a few times myself. I would have loved to meet Damien based on stories I’ve heard about him. It is a huge honor to receive an award in memorial to Damien.
THE WINNER OF THE 2010 DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
My name is Jared Slaymaker and I am a Sophomore at Westminster Choir College. Working towards a Bachelor’s of Music Degree in Piano, under the instruction of Professor Ingrid Clarfield, I hope to perform in the world’s great concert stages and halls. I also hope to encourage youth to learn and cherish the values and lifes of the world’s great classical composers and their music. Soccer, playing violin, singing, conducting, getting to know new people, and of course piano have been my favorite hobbies since my early teenage years.
At the age of nine, I began taking private piano lessons with Mary Soper. She taught both my older sister and older brother before I came along. Before she had passed away, when I was fifteen, she suggested I take private lessons from Benjamin Whitten. Mr. Whitten was a tough transition from my previous teacher but was an advocate for learning repertoire for college auditions. Not only did he prepare me for college auditions but he suggested I attend the Westminster Piano Camp. I am proud to say that I can thank him for truly making my auditions go well and for getting me into Westminster Choir College. And I am also extremely proud to call myself a three year Westminster Piano Camp Attendee!! Now that I attend Westminster, I am learning so much more than I thought I could after only two years! I am focusing a whole lot more on conducting, singing, theory and piano. I’d have to say that it was a real honor to hear my name announced as the 2010-2011 Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship winner! I was shocked! I thank Mrs. Clarfield and Damien and am so glad I won a Scholarship after someone who clearly understood how powerful and touching music can be on people’s lives! Thank you again Mrs. Clarfield and Damien!
RECIPIENT OF THE FOURTH DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
Christopher McWilliams is currently an undergraduate junior at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, New Jersey. He is majoring in both Organ and Piano Performance. His piano teacher is Mrs. Phyllis Lehrer, and his organ instructor Professor Kenneth Cowan. Even though he is also a temporary accompanist for a talented violist, he hopes to become a church organist and a piano teacher some day.
In his early years, Christopher studied the piano with Mrs. Marilyn Taggart and the organ with Dr. Kevin Parizo in Middlebury, Vermont. When Mrs. Taggart recommended Westminster Choir College to him, he decided to participate in the High School Piano Camp in the summer of 2005. He enjoyed it so much, that he became part of the Organ Camp the following summer. Thanks to the wonderful instruction and encouragement from his teachers, he is lucky to be a student at a delightful and fun musical college.
RECIPIENT OF THE THIRD DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
I am a Junior Piano and Music Theater Major at Westminster Choir College. I was attracted to Westminster because of an extraordinary lesson I had with Mrs. Clarfield in 2006.
I began taking lessons at the age of six with Jane Benson and began studying with Mrs. Clarfield my freshman year at Westminster. I won the Richmond Symphony Concerto Competition in 2005, and was a finalist in the Young Musicians Concert, granting me the opportunity to make my Carnegie Hall debut this past May.
Being a singer as well, I enjoy using my piano skills as an accompanist and coach for Westminster students, an accompanist for school productions, and as music director for a student run production.
This past spring, I was honored at my Junior Piano Recital with the Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship. Not having known Damien, I decided to do some reading about him to see why I, of all people, deserve his award. I found myself laughing at loud while reading his eulogy as I slowly realized through the anecdotes what a remarkable gift AND personality he had. His incredible talent, strength, bravery, and mission to make more than music with the piano inspire me to live up to this award.
RECIPIENT OF THE SECOND DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
Kathryn Whitaker is a piano student of professor Ingrid Clarfield. She is a music education student in the BM/MAT program. Kathryn is a native of Eynon, Pennsylvania, where she works as a vocal coach, accompanist and wedding musician. Kathryn is also a cantor at St. Peter’s Cathedral, Scranton.
In the winter of her senior year in high school Kathryn won the Westminster Choir College Piano Competition for incoming freshmen. She has a varied musical background and was a two-time Pennsylvania All-State soprano, drum major of the marching band and played bassoon, percussion and flute in her high school band. She also played bassoon in the Marywood University (Scranton, PA) Wind Ensemble. Kathryn has performed in piano recitals twice at Weil Hall, New York City. She studied piano under the direction of Sr. Immaculate Severino, IHM, NCTM,.
In the spring of 2006, Kathryn won the Freshmen Piano Competition and was also inducted into the Alpha Lambda Delta National Honor Society for First year College Students. She was the soprano soloist in Brittens’ “Rejoice In The Lamb” as performed by the Chapel Choir.
In the winter of Kathryn’s sophomore year at WCC, she performed her junior piano performance recital at Williamson Hall, fulfilling this requirement a year in advance.
She also was a member and featured soloist with the Williamson Voices and the Jubilee Singers. Kathryn has recently been invited into the BM/MAT Degree Program at Westminster Choir College, this will enables her to earn a Bachelor’s in Music Education. and a Masters of Teaching degree with an additional year of study.
At Spring Convocation when Kathryn learned she was the second recipient of the esteemed Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship, she felt “not only honored, but very, very humbled to be considered worthy of Damien’s award.” Upon hearing that Kathryn won Damien’s Scholarship, Sr. Severino was proud to share her connection with one of Damien’s proudest moments. The year that Damien Dixon won the National Baldwin Piano Competition, Sr. Severino was the chairperson of the National Piano Teachers Guild, She reminisced with Kathryn how she proudly presented Damien’s musical score to the panel of judges, complete with Mrs. Clarfield’s flamboyantly colored interpretations on display!
RECIPIENT OF THE FIRST DAMIEN DIXON MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP
Ryan Brechmacher is a senior piano and composition double major at Westminster Choir College. He was selected unanimously by the Piano Department as the recipient of the first Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship. Damien described the person who he would have liked to receive this scholarship. In Damien’s words:
“The Damien Dixon Memorial Scholarship is given to an undergraduate pianist for whom the piano is more than just a major. The pianist worthy of this award plays with imagination and personality and uses the piano to stir up the emotions of the listener.”
This award was announced on April 27, 2006 at the Awards Convocation at Westminster Choir College of Rider University. Ryan has been working on transcribing Damien's piano music, with the hopes of publication. He was working with Damien up until the time of his passing in November on the project.
Ryan is a native of Bowling Green, Ohio, which is home to Bowling Green State University, where Brechmacher has been involved in many projects. He has recently taught theory classes and been a counselor at both the BGSU Piano Camp, and been a counselor, vocal coach, and accompanist for the BGSU Musical Theater Camp. He has also been involved in the university's Opera for Youth program, singing the role of Defense Lawyer in "The Trial of
At Westminster, Brechmacher is active in the WCC Christian Fellowship and in Rider's Protestant Campus Ministries, acting as worship leader for both groups.
| He is also currently a member and formerly music director for the Princeton University/WCC Christian a cappella group, Kindred Spirit. As a pianist, he has given both his junior and senior recitals as well as appearing in honors concerts and recitals at the Westminster and Lawrenceville campuses.
As a composer, Ryan's works have been premiered by WCC's Schola Cantorum as well as The Westminster Community Orchestra. Ryan's composition, "Songs of Praise the Angels Sang", was premiered on May 12, 2006, as the "Graduating Anthem" at Westminster's 77th Commencement Ceremony. He also had another work commissioned and premiered by the Bowling Green Junior High Eighth Grade Band this past year.
As a student Brechmacher has maintained a 3.95 GPA and has earned the honor of being named a Rider Scholar for two straight years. This past April, he was chosen by the Westminster faculty to deliver the Rider Scholar Address at WCC's Convocation.
Over the summer, Brechmacher is planning on doing recording of some songs he has written with a group of friends from home, giving a solo piano recital in Bowling Green, and working at four piano camps in both Ohio and New Jersey. This will be Ryan’s second summer teaching with Mrs. Clarfield at Westminster’s Piano Camp for High School Students.
Ryan's thoughts on winning this award
"Receiving this scholarship means a lot to me, as I have worked with Damien both professionally and personally during my years at Westminster. He was a great guy, always with a sense of humor no matter what was going on around him. He was wise beyond his years and profound in even the most mundane things he would say and do. It's been a privilege working on transcribing his music, and it is an honor to be the first recipient of the scholarship in his name."
Eulogy for Damien Dixon
By Ingrid Clarfield
December 3, 2005
We never know the impact one phone call can have on our lives. I certainly had no idea in the Fall of 1988, when I received a call from a tearful woman saying she was teaching an unbelievably gifted young boy and she knew she was not the right teacher for him. She asked if I would consider accepting him. I told her I was flattered, but that I had absolutely no room for any more students, but I would be happy to listen to him and make some teacher recommendations.
The afternoon I was to hear him, I was on the phone with my colleague Phyllis Lehrer telling her what I was doing, and she asked me the name of the kid. When I told her, Damien Dixon, she said there was no way I wouldn’t take him. I argued I had no openings, and she said once you hear this kid, trust me, you won’t be able to say no. Well, within a few minutes I knew Phyllis was right. I was mesmerized by Damien, as an individual and a musician. In later years, Damien and I often discussed this incredibly sloppy audition and he said he was amazed his talent managed to come through all the slop. At this age, Damien had only one tempo-prestissimo-as fast as possible. When I asked him if he had played any Beethoven Sonatas, he looked at me with a big smile and proudly said, I’ve sight read through all 32 of them.
The first few months were painful for both of us, as Damien discovered some new concepts----discipline, slow practice, and paying attention to details. I wondered if I would be able to tame this wild and wonderful talent and still maintain his magical and unique personality. Within a short time, Damien started winning numerous awards and competitions for piano and composition sponsored by Music Teachers National Association, New Jersey Music Teachers Association, Piano Teachers Congress of New York, Young Keyboard Artists Association, just to name a few. One of his favorite awards was winning 1 st place in the International Piano Competition featuring Chinese Music in Washington, DC, which needless to say attracted primarily (like 98%) Asians. He loved the photo of himself with the other winners that was used for the next year’s competition publicity. But undoubtedly, his proudest moment was being named the 1 st prize winner in the 1991 Music Teachers National Association Baldwin Piano Competition. This entailed him 1 st winning on the State level, then competing against the 12 other state winners in the Eastern Division, before competing in the National Finals in Miami. We relived that experience many times. The whole family was there to celebrate his success. There are several pictures of this happy event on the website. Before the winners concert, in front of hundreds of people, I asked him if he wanted to warm up or perhaps run through the piece with me. He said “Relax, I’ll be fine!” He started the last movement of Prokofiev 6 th Sonata at a tempo I had never heard before, or since. Needless to say he tore the house down with his performance. Years later people still talk about that performance.
To this day, he is the only pianist from New Jersey to ever win this competition, a title he cherished.
Damien went on to win many more awards and perform concerti with the Plainfield Symphony, Greater Trenton Symphony, Monmouth Symphony, and the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra.
The second phase of my relationship came several years later, while Damien was in graduate school. But I must tell you, that while he was in college, he never missed calling me on my birthday. When he realized that he really didn’t want to be an engineer and wanted to get back to his real love, music, I welcomed him back to my private studio, inviting him to accompany many of my students on Concerti. He also was a welcomed participant in studio classes with all my young students loving him for his playful childlike side and wonderful sense of humor, but knowing that his comments on their playing was always insightful and as picky or even pickier than mine.
Then, I asked him to accompany a Westminster student on a concerto. When everyone heard him play in performance class they were truly amazed. After that class, another student asked Damien to play one of his compositions in a composition recital, and from there his second life as a musician was reborn and he became known as Damien and his Divas. Damien became one of the most sought after accompanists at Westminster.
I loved watching Damien sit on the bench outside of Bristol Chapel, as he delighted in being surrounded by his Divas.
During this time we also would go out for dinner occasionally, and he often would bemoan his inability to find the perfect woman, or one who even came close. He started to worry she just didn’t exist, and then alas one of his divas, who told me she found him a little “creepy” at first, became a good friend, and then the love of his life, Becca. He was so smitten, but always anxious that it might not last that 1 st month to make it through her recital (because you can’t break up with someone before their recital). Needless to say, it lasted for two years, and we are all grateful to Becca for all the love and support she gave him these last two years. We should all be so lucky to have a Becca in our lives.
The third and final phase of my relationship with Damien was these past few months when he was in the hospital. During this difficult period this remarkable man never lost his sense of humor, strong convictions or compassion. We often laughed about memories of lessons and performances, but I’ll never forget one day when I just started crying. As Damien gently tried comforting me, he suddenly started laughing saying, “What’s wrong with this picture? I’m dying and I have to comfort you!” and then he compassionately said, “I worry most about you and Ommie.”
On November 20, I had a wonderful final visit with Damien where I told him one of his favorite students of mine, Emiko was the New Jersey winner of the MTNA Competition and I thought had a good chance to win Eastern Division and go on to the National Finals. While I had other students who had accomplished this feat, in the past Damien always made it clear he wanted to keep his title, but it would be okay if they came in 3 rd. At this time I expected him to finally be able to relinquish his title. He looked at me, and said with a slow but heartfelt conviction, I really hope she _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ comes in second!!
I’d like to close by sharing some of Damien’s own words with you. Two months ago I told him I planned to endow a scholarship in his name. He was thrilled that his name would be part of a scholarship. I asked him to describe the person who would receive this award. He said: “The Damien Dixon Memorial Piano Scholarship is to be given to an undergraduate pianist for whom the piano is more than just a major. The pianist worthy of this award plays with imagination and personality and uses the piano to stir up the emotions of the listener.”
So many of you here today, I’m sure had your emotions stirred up by Damien’s imaginative playing that was full of his personality. He hopes to continue encouraging this in other young musicians.
As his teacher and friend, I feel I learned so much from Damien about living and dying and for that I will always be grateful. May we all be able to think of Damien and smile and remember the incredible joy he gave to so many people.
Memorial Contributions may be made to:
Westminster Choir College of Rider University
The Damien Dixon Memorial Piano Scholarship
Attention: Kate Wadley
Westminster Choir College, 101 Walnut Lane, Princeton, NJ 08540
Thoughts from friends of Damien
... I have only known Damien to be a kind, munificent, talented and goofy person; one of those people you wish you knew more of. I trust both of you know that this grand statement is no exaggeration of his spirit, even in eulogy.
"You've just seen a prince walk by. A fine, troubled prince. A hard-working, unappreciated prince. A pal, you understand?"
I am thankful that, in life and in death, Damien Dixon was very appreciated by those he met - he even inspired a small boy to practice piano and that has made all the difference in my life.
That's the sort of thing Damien did. It's frustrating - how do you repay a man who spent so many hours of his very short life helping you? Ironically, giving himself so totally made Damien the prince that he was and the prince he will be wherever he is now.
May he rest in peace,
... I was deeply saddened to find out about Damien's passing. I really wish I had been able to make the trip down to Princeton to see him. I have no doubt that his positive spirit was present right up until the end. Some people are born into this world lucky enough to have everything in their favor, and still complain about every little detail. Damien was the opposite. He had more struggles and grief than he ever deserved, and yet I never saw him in a mood that wasn't chipper and carefree. We should all remember Damien when something in our lives goes awry and we gripe about our bad luck. Damien had more bad luck in his tragically short life than anyone should, but he took it all with an innocent smile and a golden heart.
I'm so glad that you were in touch with him until the end. You were one of the most important people in his life, and through your teaching, your friendship, and your constant support, you clearly brought much love and joy to him. Damien passed that love and joy on to everyone he knew, and I hope that the people lucky enough to have met him will remember these qualities after his passing. On this Thanksgiving weekend, Damien's passing certainly brings a more profound meaning to the holiday.
Please let me know the details of the funeral once you have them. It may not be possible for me to attend, but I would certainly like to try.
Best wishes to you, Ingrid, at this most difficult time.
“I’ll always remember Damien’s smiling face at auditions, competitions and performances. He would come in, rather nonchalantly, with a broad grin and a cheerful greeting, as though he was about to do nothing more serious than take a walk in the park. In his earlier years he would be supported by both his parents and his little sisters who all waited patiently – the sisters occupying one chair. It was very exciting for all of us who were involved in NJMTA at that time, when “our” Damien won the
competition. We were thrilled for both of you. Come to think of it, we hardly ever used his second name – “Damien” was enough.”
All the best.
... I'd like you pass on my condolences to his family
and Rebecca. I'll always have the fondest memories of him, and I'll never forget how much he helped me, and how fun it was to make music with him. He really challenged me to challenge myself, and I think we made a great team.
Thank you for creating the scholarship. I'm so glad that his name will live on.
I hope you are doing well.
I don't remember how I met Damien exactly, but I can try and describe
how it probably happened. One of the dormitories (Donner Hall) had a
piano on its first floor, right next to the entrance. I would wander
in and try my hand at the piano, and certainly at some point Damien
had ended up in there showing me how it's really done. I think he
taught me half of the things I know about playing piano (something I
don't do very well!), and did so just in casual remarks. Anyone would
take the advice of someone who could play so much Nintendo music so
Rather than paragraph-and-sentence everything, I'll present a list of
some random memories:
-- Damien once said to me "there are two kinds of people in this
world. those who put people into two categories, and those who
don't"... then he went on to say the actual two categories he'd
originally meant to say.
-- he listened to rap as well as classical music - i must have
mentioned to him that our friend, Simon Peffers, was interested in
some rap suggestions. Damien came into class the next day and said to
him "What's up, Peff Daddy?"
-- I remember chuckling with him as he noticed that the Spanish word
for VCR is "videograbadora". Sounds fake, doesn't it?
-- playing Tekken 3, he could whip my butt _and_ throw in countless
funny insults in the process!
-- a friend of ours was brushing her teeth, and Damien mimed along
with the motions/sounds. you can't imagine how funny that looks until
you see it.
-- one day, I was fudging my way through the opening arpeggios in
Moonlight Sonata's third movement. He'd said I should try doing it
along with the left hand accompaniment. I said no no no, I can't quite
pull that off. I demonstrated. His word? "Yeah, you're really fudging
it. The only reason I can tell is because I fudge things that much
-- he was taking Japanese at college. His name in that language was
Dixon-san, or, phoenetically in Japanese, di-ku-san-san.
I'd always thought that Damien was someone who should be known and
remembered beyond just his friends - someone who deserved some degree
of celebrity. It's too late for him here, but maybe this page will be
...I am sure that there was great happiness being remembered yesterday, as Damien himself was a great man of great happiness. I'll never forget how contagious his smile was. He would walk into a room, and everyone would be happy all of a sudden -- it truly amazed me, and I wanted to be able to do what he did. He has this powerful and wonderful influence on everyone he is surrounded by, and every time I have ever seen him, he's ALWAYS surrounded by admirers, friends, and fans.
I'll never forget his performance in the Haydn C Major Sonata with the cute staccatos in the opening, because I remember how perfectly that piece suited him and how perfectly he suited that piece. To this day, I always think of him whenever I hear that piece. What a truly wonderful pianist and, if still possible, an even more wonderful person. He is surely missed by all of us, but having had the good fortune of meeting and befriending Damien in our lives, that special and vibrant presence that he possessed will never, ever leave us.
My deepest sympathies go out to you, Ms Clafield, and all who had the honor to personally know Damien. You see my name is Jackie, and although i always hoped to meet this talented man in person, but sadly time never granted me that privilege.
I know about Damien through our mutual friend Bonnie Sparkman. Shortly after Damien's diagnosis, i was struggling with some health issues of my own. They were far less serous then Damien's but to me they were insurmountable. And one night i began slipping into my self induced pity party. But Bonnie would not let me slip to far, she very gently interrupted my belly aching, and told me about her friend Damien
She spoke of aggressiveness of his illness, and how many treatments( both conventional and non conventional he had already endured.) i remember thinking if i was going through that i would close the curtains and curl up in the fetal position. But Bonnie continued to describe him as a man whose spirit and passion for life was far stronger the the disease ravishing his body
the next day Bonnie forwarded an entry from his web log. He spoke of how the chemo were affecting his finger nails, and how this might be a problem for most pianists. but not for him, He had found a way to play sans finger nails. I tried not to laugh as cancer is obviously a horrid disease, But the Damien was laughing in cancer's face so why shouldn't I? By the time i finished the email I was actually laughing out loud.
i begged Bonnie to forward me all his notes after that, and then felt compelled to forward them to everyone i knew. i never left my computer uninspired, or emotionally charged. I often caught myself thinking that Damien should unleash his wisdom, wit and amazing candor in his own nationally syndicated newspaper column, but then i realized he his fingers were probably most comfortable on his beloved piano keys,
Like i said i never had to the pleasure to actually meet the man.... i was just a "fan" who admired from afar. His words touched me on a level i can not describe. Perhaps that what a true legacy is, when a person inspires a person without even knowing it.
So tonight i applaud you. It WAS a great fight. May you take your place with the angels and the greatest pianists history have ever known. And may your friends family and esp Becca be comforted by the legacy you leave behind.
...I read the eulogy today on your website. You did a beautiful job
capturing his spirit, and the memorial on the website is truly a
tribute to him. As I was reading and looking through the pictures today
I was reminded of a time I had with him outside your studio. We used to
talk for about 5 or 10 minutes every week before my lesson and one he
accompanied in that hallway. Each week he would find me sitting on the
floor under the water fountain with stomach pains, and as nervous as
could be. We would joke around about his memories of piano lessons etc.
But one day he came into the hallway and I must have looked especially
nervous that day, and he said "Geez haven't you learned to just
practice yet!" I'll never forget that.
My Hero by
Today, society describes a hero as anyone who is able to do the right thing, exhibit moral honestly and exhibit incredible initiative and courage. Our expectations for our heroes have been lowered to a mortal level compared with the earliest heroes. Back in ancient Greece and Rome, the only hero was a classical hero. A man that “exhibits emotional courage, must deal with an opposing power, experiences death, possess intelligence and wit, uses abilities to help others, goes on a quest or journey, achieves divinity, has an unusual birth and an immortal parents, and possesses great physical strengths. While I do believe that today’s heroes do not carry the same burdens Odysseus, Achilles, and Hector had to burden, they still have no easy task.
In my opinion, a hero today would still have to be extraordinary. I would expect my hero to be inspirational, caring, respected, exceptionally talented, and most importantly, overcome horrible hardships to accomplish a task and help his community. He must be unique in what he does and serve as a role model to those who look to him. While my hero may not have had an unusual birth or great physical strengths, he certainly possesses all of the characteristics I look for in a hero and even some of a classical hero’s traits. My hero is Damien Dixon. Although he may not be as well known as Kobe Bryant or Bill Gates, his accomplishments and deeds are not to be overlooked. Damien Dixon died on November 25th, 2005 due to a demoplastic small round cell tumor, a rare and highly aggressive form of cancer. Ironically, his doctors declared that he would live no longer than the 24th. This is a prime example of the life he lived and his contributions for my passion for piano and my understanding of life. I first met Damien when I was nine years old while I was auditioning for a spot in Mrs. Ingrid Clarfield’s prestigious piano studio. Although my piano skills at the time were not sufficient, and Mrs. Clarfield turned me down. I ended up gaining an even more important friend and mentor in Damien. Somewhere in the tryout, my parents were introduced to Damien. He taught me some piano and it was really his
attitude towards music and life that enlightened me. Prior to meeting him, I was a child at heart. I had no appreciation for hard work or diligence. I hated piano. Frankly, my parents were the ones who forced me to even audition for a spot in Mrs. Clarfield’s studio. However, I really had my epiphany after I met Damien. He is undeniably talented and prodigious in his gifts. To this day, he is still the only person from the state of New Jersey to win the prestigious MTNA Baldwin National Piano Competition. I have not even won it! Yet, with all of his blessings, his hardships were heartbreaking. His mother died early and although he qualified for Princeton University, he had to go to Carnegie Mellon because of financial issues. After he graduated college with his BA, his father also passed away, and he needed to pass up a doctoral program in Electrical Engineering at Princeton again to start earning an income to support his two younger sisters. Ultimately, he gave up engineering to return to his love of music. Searching for a teacher, my parents eagerly let Damien guide me. As I mentioned before, I was still relatively young when I studied with Damien and because of this, I had no idea and could not comprehend what adversities he had been through. Regardless of my innocence, I was not to detect any melancholy in his behavior. Although he had lived through many terrible hardships, Damien Dixon still had an upbeat, optimistic, and fun attitude towards life. There were many days when he was cheering me up! Through our experiences, he has not only helped me with piano and math homework, but he has turned me into a better person. Unfortunately, our time together did not last forever as he was diagnosed with cancer. Even though I have now had other piano teachers after him (I am now even in Mrs. Clarfield’s studio), I will never ever forget the lessons and inspiration I gained from him. His story is truly unique, and as long as I live, I will always hold the utmost respect for Damien. Although Damien Dixon has experienced death, he has truly achieved divinity in my heart.