Classical Piano

Des Moines Area Piano Festival

1-3 p.m., Sunday, March 1, 2020
West Music Piano Gallery: 3310 100th Street, Urbandale, IA 50322


Information and Registration

1-3 p.m., Sunday, March 1, 2020
West Music Piano Gallery: 3310 100th Street, Urbandale, IA 50322

Thank you for your interest in the 2020 Des Moines Area Piano Festival, a professionally-adjudicated performance opportunity for students in a friendly, welcoming environment.

About the Festival:

This year's Festival will be held 1-3 p.m. on Sunday, March 1 at West Music Piano Gallery (3310 100th Street, Urbandale, IA 50322). Pianists in grades K-12 from the Des Moines metro area (Des Moines and all surrounding suburbs) are cordially invited to participate. Entries will be capped at 120 participants in 2020.


To register, please fill out this registration form and pay the $10 registration fee (payable via the link on the registration form or here). Both the registration form and payment must be received by 11:59 p.m. on Friday, February 21 before a student is registered to participate in the 2020 Des Moines Area Piano Festival and/or the Victor Borge Legacy Award Competition. Participants will be notified of their audition time by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, February 24. All performance times are final and no refunds will be offered.

Performance Information: 
Each student should bring a copy of the score with measures numbered. Please do not use duplicated copies of music. Please be on time for your assigned audition time. You are welcome to listen to performers before and after you. Please refrain from talking or making other noises during the auditions. 

All participants will be evaluated by a professional musician and will receive a rating and judge's comments. Each student will begin with the technical exercise (below) and then perform a memorized piece that showcases the student's current playing level. Each audition is a maximum of five minutes total per student. Comment sheets will be sent to the student or teacher. 

Technical Exercise Requirements:

Please consult with your student's instructor regarding your student's current playing level. Scales and cadence patterns are to be in the key of the memorized audition piece: 
Beginner: Play a one-octave scale and a I-V7-I pattern with both hands (chords may be simplified).
Intermediate: Play a two-octave scale and a I-IV-I-V7-I pattern with both hands. 
Advanced: Play a four-octave scale and a I-IV-I-V7-I pattern with both hands.

Victor Borge Legacy Award Competition: 

If the Piano Festival entrant is at an advanced playing level and in grades 8-12, he/she is invited to participate in the Victor Borge Legacy Award Competition at the 2020 Des Moines Area Piano Festival. No additional repertoire is required, and the student will be adjudicated as part of his/her Piano Festival audition. 

Previous second place Victor Borge Legacy Award winners are eligible to enter; previous first place Legacy Award winners are ineligible to enter. 

First and second place winners will receive an award of $1,000 and $500, respectively, which will be given to the winners after they perform at least two memorized, classical pieces (10 minutes total) in a recital on Saturday, May 2, 2020 on the Victor Borge piano at the Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, Iowa. Failure to perform in the recital will result in forfeiting the award money.

In addition, winners will submit a 500-word essay about the legacy of Victor Borge (deadline is April 1, 2020), which will be judged by a panel that includes Borge's daughter, Janet Borge Crowle, for an additional $500 cash prize.

Funding for the Victor Borge Legacy Award is provided through a generous gift from R. James and Janet Borge Crowle, Saint Michaels, Maryland. Additional support provided by the Charles W. and Norma J. Wilson Foundation and the Eric & Joan Norgaard Charitable Trust.


With questions, please email Des Moines Area Piano Festival Director Sophia S. Ahmad at

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Sophia S. Ahmad

MM in Piano Performance, Arts Leadership Certificate - Eastman School of Music
BM in Piano Performance - Gordon College

Ms. Ahmad holds a Master of Music in Piano Performance and Literature and an Arts Leadership Certificate from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. She earned her Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance from Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., with additional chamber music studies in collaboration with New England Conservatory in Boston, Mass. Her principal teachers have included Edward Ferdinand, Mia Chung-Yee, Anne and Raymond Hanson and Douglas Humpherys.

As a pianist, she collaborates regularly with Simon Estes, she has recorded for Prentice Hall’s Inside the Orchestra DVD and she has performed with artists from the New World Symphony, the National Portuguese Symphony Orchestra and the Des Moines Symphony, among others. In 2013, she presented a lecture recital entitled Schumann’s Romantic Forest: A Musical Journey Through ‘Waldszenen, Op. 82 throughout Central Iowa and at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. An advocate of new music, she has premiered numerous pieces and worked with composers including Libby Larsen, Bright Sheng and Simone Fontanelli. Her solo performances have been broadcast on Iowa Public Radio, and in 2012, she made solo appearances at Iowa State University and Drake University, performing the music of Philip Glass. She appeared as the keyboard soloist in Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 with the OSSIA new music ensemble. In 2018, she was invited by the Des Moines Art Center for a solo performance of Satie's "Relache" in conjunction with the opening of "The Irrational and the Marvelous" exhibition.

Ms. Ahmad is a Presser Scholar and active as a music teacher, performer, critic and writer. At the Eastman School of Music, she taught piano class, and she co-founded and performed in the annual Women in Music Festival. She was invited to make a solo appearance in March 2014 at the tenth anniversary of the Festival, which featured Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Higdon as its composer-in-residence.

Outside of music, she has served as Director of Marketing & PR for the Des Moines Symphony, Vice President of Public Relations at the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Currently, she serves as Senior Director of Development at MercyOne Des Moines Foundation. 

John Helmich

MM in Music Performance and Literature - Eastman School of Music
BM in Music Performance and Literature - Eastman School of Music

John Helmich, a Davenport, Iowa native, received his Bachelor of Music degree in Violin Performance and his Master of Music degree in Violin Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music. Additionally, has studied piano for over 15 years and plays professionally extensively.

While Eastman, he was awarded the Howard Hanson Scholarship and graduated with High Distinction. His primary teachers included Oleh Krysa and Timothy Ying. During his studies at Eastman, he was coached extensively by the Ying Quartet with additional master classes and coachings with Zvi Zeitlin, Ilya Kaler, Marilyn McDonald, Miriam Fried, Pamela Frank, the Turtle Island String Quartet, and the Tokyo String Quartet.

An avid soloist, as well as chamber musician, Mr. Helmich has performed in concerts and recitals throughout the United States. He is currently a member of the Derazey Piano Trio, the Belin Quartet, the Des Moines Metro Opera, and the Des Moines Symphony. He has performed on concert series at the Des Moines Art Center, the Des Moines Salisbury House, as well as for the World Food Prize, and the Iowa Gubernatorial Inauguration Ceremony. He has served as Principal Second Violin of the Des Moines Metro Opera, and is currently Associate Concertmaster. He has also performed in opera productions with Drake University, Simpson College, and the University of Iowa. He is currently a member of the first violin section of the Des Moines Symphony.

In addition, Mr. Helmich has collaborated with today’s pop and jazz musicians including Josh Groban, Amy Grant, Max Wellman, and Mannheim Steamroller. He has also performed with numerous national touring Broadway shows.

Mr. Helmich has served as Teaching Artist of Violin at Drake University. He also teaches violin, piano and coaches chamber music groups at the Des Moines Symphony Academy. His students have been accepted into the nation’s top music schools, including the New England Conservatory, the Eastman School of Music, Oberlin, Northwestern University, and the Peabody Conservatory.

Dr. Nicholas Roth

DMA in Piano Performance - Michigan State University

Artist Diploma - Hochschule für Musik in Munich

MM in Piano Performance - Indiana University

BM in Piano Performance - Indiana University 

Nicholas Roth began formal studies at age twelve, receiving critical acclaim for his appearances by the age of eighteen. He appeared as soloist with the St. Louis Symphony and the Indianapolis
Symphony under Raymond Leppard, among many others. Roth is a featured performer and teacher
throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia. He is a Yamaha Artist, a Beethoven Fellow
of the American Pianists Association, earned prizes in the chamber music competitions of Tortona
and Pietra Ligure, Italy, and received a DAAD grant to further his studies in Germany.

Roth holds the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Michigan State University, Artist Diplomas in
solo piano performance and art song collaboration from the Hochschule für Musik in Munich, and
MM and BM degrees from Indiana University, where he was also the recipient of the Jacobs School
of Music’s highest honors, including the Performer’s Certificate and the Joseph Battista Memorial
Scholarship. He studied with Ralph Votapek, Elisso Virsaladze, Helmut Deutsch, Edward Auer,
Emilio del Rosario and Michel Block.

Roth has taught masterclasses at Indiana University, SoundSCAPE Festival in Italy, Isidor Bajić
School of Music in Serbia, Conservatorio Superior Nacional de Musica in Quito, Ecuador,
International Beethoven Festival in Chicago, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Chicago
and many other schools in the USA.

He was a presenter for the European Piano Teachers Association World Piano Conference in Serbia
and is an Accreditation Examiner with distinction (Diploma of Excellence) for the World Piano
Teachers Association. A Nationally Certified Teacher of the Music Teachers National Association, he
is a frequent presenter, adjudicator and administrator for MTNA events.

Roth was honored by the House of Representatives of the General Assembly of the State of Indiana
for his contribution to the performing arts, his accomplishments as a concert pianist and his
inspiration to young musicians. He has presented masterclasses and concerts at Minzu University,
Beijing Normal University and Art Education School of Huaxi in China as well as Pusan National
University in South Korea. He has also taught for the Edward Auer Summer Piano Workshop at the
Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University and the Classical Music Festival Piano Seminar in
Eisenstadt (Austria). Since 2017, Roth has served on the faculty of the Ono Zone International Music
Festival in Quito, Ecuador.

Roth is Professor of Piano at Drake University. Previous appointments include University of
Wisconsin – Stevens Point and Alma College. He has recorded for the Blue Griffin, Naxos, MSR
Classics and Innova recording labels. His recordings with Blue Griffin have garnered exceptional
reviews from International Record Review, Gramophone, Fanfare, and American Record Guide.
In March 2019, Roth participated in a performance of the Hexaméron for six pianos and orchestra in
Baku, Azerbaijan. In recent years, he was a featured A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison
Keillor, and collaborated with Robert Spano in a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Roth
is the founder of the Drake University Keys to Excellence Piano Series, now in its seventh season,
featuring renowned artists from all over the world.


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