An Interview with Dr. Deborah Rambo Sinn

Dr. Rambo Sinn answers a few key questions about the SPC,

with preparation tips for students, parents and teachers.

SPC:  The Spokane Piano Competition is a bit different than other competitions in that students receive a score in 5 areas:

  1. Interpretation of composer’s style and intent
  2. Rhythmic accuracy and integrity
  3. Technical mastery and physical ease
  4. Sound quality, expression and musical artistry
  5. Audience Engagement

What recommendations you would make to students to prepare their performance in each of these areas?


I love this list! Of course, one wants to play notes, rhythms, and dynamics as correctly as possible, but music is what lies past these elements. I listen for what a performer brings to each piece that reflects thoughtfulness to a composer’s intent, along with an intangible that goes beyond the notes–a true connection between the performer and the piece, that communicates with, and touches, those who listen.


To prepare, I would recommend that each student perform as much as possible–for friends, relatives, church, studio classes, and at other functions. Each performance will bring its own set of information about where the piece needs to go next, along with strengthening confidence for the performer.

SPC: The Spokane Piano Competition also offers an ensemble division.  What do you look for in an ensemble performance that is different from the solo categories?


With ensemble playing there are, in a way, “too many notes.” I listen for excellent communication between the chamber partners that includes textural clarity (what notes are the most important in the vertical structure), a gracious passing back and forth of melodic elements, and matched articulation.    

SPC: What recommendations can you give to teachers who are preparing students for competition?


As mentioned earlier, arrange for students to have ample opportunities for performance ahead of the competition, but also to help each student find variation in the ways they can practice. It is boring to play the same thing over and over again in the same way.


Having “distraction masterclass” is something I do with my students ahead of performances. I hand out drums, castanets, keys, and other noise makers, and–while a student is performing–I will indicate who will make noise next. We cough, open and shut doors, and use our noise makers to try and distract! Videoing lessons has been helpful, as has a video check-in during the week, where a student sends me a specific section of music (“memorize measures 20-42 and send me a video by Friday”, for instance.)

SPC:  What advice would you give parents as they help support and encourage their children in with piano study and performance?


It’s vital for parents, students, and teachers to work together (and not just for competitions, of course.) Knowing the expectations of the teacher for each week’s work is a great first start. Parents can also help arrange other performances for their children.    

SPC:  How would you describe the benefits and value students receive through participation in piano competitions?


For me, if I don’t have a goal to work towards, practicing becomes a bit dull! My attention to detail, memory, and polishing are likely to be under par. Competitions provide a goal with and a timeline, the opportunity for evaluation, a chance to hear other performers who are around the same age, ideas to work towards for the next event!