As second place at 11th USA International Harp Competition was announced Saturday night, the only competitor without an award held back tears of joy.
French harpist Mélanie Laurent mouthed, "I'm sorry," to the runner-up before she stood, blushing but composed, to accept first prize.
The 11th USA International Harp Competition took place from July 3-13 at the Musical Arts Center. She received a $6,000 cash prize, a trophy, offers to perform around the world and a Lyon and Healy Concert Grand Harp estimated at $55,000.
"I am very happy," Laurent said. "I can't find another word, I think I've said 'happy' a thousand times tonight."
The 23-year-old has played the harp since she was six. She said she began preparing two and a half years ago.
"I organized my life around the competition," Laurent said.
Laurent said she quit drinking alcohol or tea so she could stay clear-headed and focused on practicing.
Executive director of the USA International Harp Competition Erin Brooker-Miller said the competition is one of the two most prestigious classical harp competitions in the world.
"For them, it's like the Olympics," Brooker-Miller said.
The USA International Harp Competition began 30 years ago and takes place every three years, Brooker-Miller said. Contestants ages 18-32 can apply. Sixty five people applied to be in this year's competition, and only 40 were invited to the event. Contestants perform in stages, and people are cut at each stage.
Mélanie Laurent, Valerio Lisci and Mathilde Wauters were the top-three finalists.
"It's really unique to hear harpists from around the world," Brooker-Miller said. "They are all amazing, we are representing 18 countries."
Brooker-Miller said the contestants are judged by seven jurors from seven different counties.
Nelda Barker said she travelled 200 miles from northwest Indiana to be at this week's competition. This was Barker's third time attending the USA International Harp Competition.
Barker took harp lessons from IU piano teacher Montana Grinstead for three years as a child, but never truly learned to play. Barker said her childhood love of harp is still with her today.
"I didn't want to take my eyes off of the performers," Barker said. "I was just blown away."
Laurent said she plans to spend a few weeks with family and friends before going back to the harp. After a well-deserved break, she said she will be ready to play for fun again.
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