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Piano Wars at Homan Hall Performing Arts Center in Marquand battles on as it finished the second round on July 20.

Chuck Moore took first place in round two and will move on to the finals on Sept. 27 along with Cara Robbs the victor from round one. 

The audience members were on the edge of their seats for Moore's expressive rendition of a medley from Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Phantom of the Night" and could not help but sing along with his performance of Journey's "Open Arms."

Moore is the son of Lindell and Brenda Moore of Fredericktown and currently lives and works in Farmington.

"Chuck has been playing piano since childhood and brought to the stage a charm that displayed his passion for music and the impact it has played in his life and career," Piano Wars Emcee Denny Ward said. "He commanded the stage with an easy wit and had researched the history of each piece of music he carefully selected to play."

The competition gave all three contestants five genres of music from which they were required to select and play one piece for the panel of professional judges and audience to score.

Ward said the five genres were classical, show tunes, Broadway, religious or spiritual, Disney and pop/rock. 

Judges Rocky Tucker, Lukas Vetter, Ken Jones and Lelia Jones had the difficult task of choosing the winner. Tucker is a professional pianist in the St. Louis area and a native of Marquand. Vetter is the music teacher at Marquand-Zion and a member of the Columbia University Symphony. Lastly, the Jones are both retired music teachers from the St. Louis area who have now made Marquand their home.

"Ken, after his teaching career, worked for the Steinway Company and served as the official piano tuner for the Saint Louis Symphony," Ward said. "This panel of professionals weigh in at 40 percent of the contestants' overall score by gauging things like technique, stage presence, authenticity to the selected genre and overall skill as a pianist."

Ward said the other 60 percent is left to the audience itself. He said voting paddles are placed strategically in the crowd to monitor the overall response from the attendees. 

Competition of any kind is always a scenario that creates an adrenaline rush and feverish drive to excel and win.

"Saturday night at Homan Hall Performing Arts Center was most certainly one of those moments for the three competitors playing in round two of Piano Wars 2019," Ward said. "The three contestants each had their own style and were clearly well-trained professionals."

While Moore ended the night victorious, it was no easy victory as Renee Kurtz and Stephen Hente came prepared for a battle.

"Stephen Hente, who drew the number two position in the competition, was mild-mannered, calm, poised and polished and had a great stage presence," Ward said. "He is originally from St. Louis and just last month married the beautiful and sweet Candy Wiggins, of Farmington, where the couple are making their home. Like a real trooper, Hente had his sheet music in hand and Candy made the perfect page-turning assistant."

Hente was at a slight disadvantage as he had agreed to fill in for Jesse Mae Boyd who had unexpectedly ended up in the hospital. 

Ward said Boyd is feeling much better and is scheduled to perform in August. 

"Renee Kurtz, a semi-retired music and piano teacher and wife of former Mineral Area College Dean Steven Kurtz, was zany, animated and spirited as she tried her level best to sway both the judges and the audience," Ward said. "She cleverly seduced anyone within the reach of her voice as part of her play to reign victorious over the evening and move on to the finale."

Kurtz may not be returning for the finale on Sept. 27 but she did steal the show with her finale surprise in round two.

"Renee Kurtz created the perfect finale when she brought in Saxophonist Gerry Huggins onto the stage and bribed Judge Rocky Tucker on stage with a stunning, glitzy and matching her own, musical note vest to take over on the baby grand following her intro to 'Old Time Rock n Roll,'" Ward said. "The crowd was screaming with applause at the finish."

Ward said it was unfortunate but Kurtz's finale had to be disqualified from scoring in the overall tally due to competition rules. He said Kurtz herself agreed with the decision saying it was the right thing to do.

Following intermission, Judge Vetter took a moment to enlighten the crowd with the history and role of the tuba as a vital band instrument.

"Vetter brought three very significantly different instruments and played each for the audience to illustrate how these notes are integrated into the production of any overall piece of band music," Ward said. "The segment was both interesting and informative, and a huge hit with the audience."

Round three of Piano Wars 2019 will be Aug. 24 at Homan Hall with doors opening at 6 p.m., a meal by Brewen Catering at 6:30 p.m. and the competition starting at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $30 and include both the show and the meal. 

Robbs, Moore and the winner of round three will compete in the finale Sept. 27.

Reservations can be made by calling 573-783-5438 or 573-783-3282. Programming is supported in part by the Mineral Area Council on the Arts and Mineral Area College.

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Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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