Most students enter music competitions to win a flashy cash prize or feed their insatiable competitive spirit. So why are they flocking to the Yamaha Young Performing Artists (YYPA) Competition – a program with no cash prize and no one single winner

Instead, we’ve flown the nine ridiculously talented young musicians to Indiana to take part in the profoundly unique opportunity that is the YYPA Experience. It’s hard to describe to those who haven’t experienced it, but — in the midst of preparing the winners to perform the opening evening concert of Music for All’s Summer Symposium presented by Yamaha — we pack two and a half days with sessions, workshops, career counseling and EPK reviews, hang time, rehearsals, and more. It’s absolutely exhausting and phenomenally fun.

Once the YYPA Winners are selected based on their online application and audition, we stop being concerned with their ability to play. They’ve already won, and we know they are at the top of their field. We focus on supporting the development of the people they will become and the direction their career will take. We have honest, real conversations about what it takes to get there and the practical steps needed to achieve success. We set goals. And we laugh – a lot.

Yesterday, John Wittmann, director of artist relations and education at Yamaha, challenged the 2017 winners to pause. Often, as musicians, the thought of pausing not only seems like a luxury, but it can also be a little daunting. It’s what happens in that pause that can make a world of a difference both personally and professionally.

All of these sessions and workshops culminate in the opening evening concert of the Summer Symposium. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime performance (seriously, when does a flutist get a standing ovation from thousands of screaming fans?). We recently heard from a YYPA winner from 2001, who said this moment – walking on to this stage and performing for this audience – set the course for his entire career. We don’t say “life-changing experience” to be flippant. We believe it.

What’s even more amazing (and one of my favorite parts of the program) is that the winners stay in touch with us and with each other. We become a family – encouraging one another, challenging each another. And the 2017 winners are proving to be no different. We can’t wait to see their careers continue to unfold and flourish. Keep an eye on these musicians – they’re going places.