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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

With the winners of the 50th annual Joseph and Goldie Feder Memorial Competition about to be announced, I am excited to have the chance to write about the program—not only as the current Communications and Creative Media intern, but as a former three-time Feder competitor on violin.

I was 11 years old when I first competed in 2013 for the 42nd annual competition. Now, I’m 19. The only thing I can remember from then was winning $100—one of my very first monetary prizes. I competed again the next year and was thrilled to win $1,500 in scholarship money. I was and still am thankful to Washington Performing Arts for helping me pay for my summer lesson tuition with my private teacher.

The third and last time I competed was in 2015. I finally moved from the “Aspiring” category up to the “Intermediate” category. I was nervous. All the talented upperclassmen musicians I looked up to had once competed in this category, and I felt like my skill level could never reach theirs. And, my own peers were competing right alongside me. The concertmaster of my youth orchestra would always play his advanced solo piece before rehearsal every Wednesday; this was basically his way of telling me that he was going to win.

I remember 13-year-old me suddenly starting to practice three hours a day. Since I was someone who wasn’t a fan of practicing, my mom thought some spirit—perhaps a practicing god—possessed me with my newfound determination to get really good at the violin.

Teddi Yoo

The author in her 2015 Feder Competition recording session at Blue House Productions

A few weeks before the deadline of the preliminary recordings, I headed to Blue House Productions, a recording studio where the professionals went. I was excited for my first professional recording, and I remember leaving the studio very content with my performance of Wieniawski’s Romance, where I hit all the double-stop octaves, and of Bach’s Presto from Sonata No. 1.

A few days passed. My mom took a look at the competition recording rules one more time before she submitted my videos. Then, her eyes widened, and she ran to the phone immediately. She phoned my teacher. I was so confused. Something seemed to be wrong.

“I thought my recording was good, though,” I told my mom.

As soon as she hung up the phone, my mom told me that we had to go back to Blue House to re-record. I was devastated. I had forgotten to introduce myself and my pieces before I played them—and everything had to be in one take, including the introduction. No wonder I remember exactly which pieces I played for the 44th annual Feder competition!

After cram-practicing for the recording again, I headed back to the studio and put my hair up in my good-luck ponytail hairstyle.

Fortunately, the recording went fine—I'm sure my good-luck ponytail helped. A few weeks passed, and I came home to the news that I had made the Finalist round. I was so excited.

That is, until I checked who else made finals.

I recognized three names. One was some prodigy that I had only heard about but never met. The other two were my peers who sat in front of me in youth orchestra.

Who knew that a 13-year-old could feel impostor syndrome? But there I was, not wanting to compete anymore. I felt like I had no chance, but it’d be wrong not to go through with it.

Competition day came, and I vividly remember practicing in a tiny room that had walls covered with posters about upcoming music events. I ran through the tough passages of both of my pieces very slowly, and stopped practicing five minutes before my time because I started overthinking about all the potential mistakes I could make.

I honestly cannot recall what happened in the competition room. I must have been so nervous. I only remember there being three judges and a staircase up to the mini-stage, which I was terrified of falling off of. I was not exactly satisfied with my performance, but it was over.

I guess I was really glad it was over because I ended up going home and forgetting that I left my violin in the lobby area. Feel free to laugh at that. I’m laughing as I’m writing this. Don’t worry—I got my violin back.

Somehow, I placed third. Although that is something to be proud of, it’s not what I remember most from this whole situation. I find myself wondering, Why was I so nervous? Even though I cringe a little—actually, a lot—at my preliminary recording, I am realizing that even though I must have been so nervous at that specific moment, I shouldn’t have felt bad, since I’d been picked as a finalist. No matter how well my competitors played, I should have still played the best that I could’ve. It’s more rewarding to perform with confidence, knowing you did the best that you could, instead of performing with feelings of inferiority that inevitably will lead to dissatisfaction.

I tell this to my brother, who is currently a finalist as a cellist in the Advanced category.* He has it even harder than me—with the whole pandemic situation going on, he had to record his Finalist recording of a newly commissioned composition. He has absolutely no idea if his interpretation of the piece is “correct” and if his emotions are able to transfer through the screen.

In a few years, I hope my brother can look back to this competition and be proud of his determined mindset regardless of the results; he didn’t let any of the uncertainty turn him away from playing his very best.

Although I still struggle with impostor syndrome when it comes to competing with, or even playing alongside, my talented peers, I am proud of just being aware that those feelings should in no way impact my performance to the point where I cannot enjoy the music that I make. And I hope that this year’s Feder competitors are all rightly proud of their own music-making, and of their well-earned places in the tradition of this highly respected, half-century-old competition.

*Update, June 17, 2021: The author’s brother, Allen Yoo, took 2nd Place in the “Advanced Cello” competition. View all of this year’s winners in our Feder Competition press release.

Teddi Yoo is the Summer 2021 Communications and Creative Media intern at Washington Performing Arts. She is a rising junior at Rice University in Houston, TX, and is double-majoring in piano performance and psychology. Although she is a piano performance major, she still loves to play the violin and operates her own private violin and piano studio. Teddi currently studies piano under the instruction of Professor Jeanne Kierman Fischer. Her interests include music, improvisation, graphic design, and creative media. She hopes to work in a career that will include a blend of all of these interests.