One of the secrets to winning pageants with instrumental talents is picking entertaining pageant music that both the performer and her audience can enjoy.
Use entertaining pageant music to capture – and keep – the judges’ attention. Former Miss America Shirley Cothran, who played the flute in talent in the talent competition, emphasizes that when it comes to the talent competition, great music is the key to the crown. “I think audience appeal has ninety-nine percent to do with it.”
In the pageant talent competition, musicians are statistically slightly more likely to make pageant national semi-finals than singers. Why? With over half of all entrants being singers, an entertaining musician simply stands out from the crowd. Instrumental talents that have fared well in the talent competition – or even won the national crown - include performing the piano, harp, flute, marimba, clarinet, saxophone, violin, fiddle, bass fiddle, spinet, organ, and accordion.
Examples of Winning Pageant Music for Instrumental Talents
A musician’s most valuable tool is fabulous pageant music. Choose either beautiful romantic selections or catchy clap-along tunes to charm the audience and judges. The music listings included in here are the pageant music choices which statistically have the best track records in national pageant talent competitions. All have been performed by national winners, finalists, semi-finalists, or talent winners.
- Night and Day
- With a Song in My Heart
- Deep in the Heart of Texas Star Dust
- Alabamy Bound
- Born Free
- Ebb Tide
- Bumble Boogie
- Yakety Sax
- Dizzy Fingers
- Comedians’ Gallop
- Back Home Again in Indiana
- There She Is, Miss America
- Theme from Love Story
- Flight of the Bumble Bee
- Orange Blossom Special
- Bumble Boogie
- Embraceable You
- Promises, Promises
- Through the Eyes of Love
- The Shadow of Your Smile
- Swingin’ Shepherd Blues
- Someone to Watch Over Me
- An Affair to Remember
- Wabash Cannonball
- The Swiss Shepherd Song
- Sunny /The Man I Love
- Shenandoah/Dueling Banjos
- California, Here I Come
- Great Balls of Fire
- Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head
With any instrumental talent, familiar audience favorites are always a safe bet, particularly upbeat or romantic medleys on a theme: Gershwin, patriotic, Dixie, country, Broadway, film overtures, TV theme songs, Hooked on Classics, Disney, Beatles, WWII-era, the fifties, love ballads, Miss America songs, etc.
- Shirley Cothran performed a lively flute medley of “Swingin’ Shepherd Blues” and “Bumble Boogie”
- Phyllis George won Miss America 1971 playing a piano medley of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” and “Promises, Promises.”
- A banjo player won the national talent trophy plucking out “California, Here I Come,” and “Alabamy Bound”.
- A saxophonist almost won Miss America playing “If He Walked into My Life” and “Yakety Sax”.
- And an accordionist nearly captured the national crown playing “Dizzy Fingers” and “Comedians’ Gallop.”
- Fiddlers regularly make the top ten playing “Czardias” and “Orange Blossom Special.”
Rock is also becoming popular:
- Miss Arkansas 1991 made the national semifinals with her fabulous, rousing piano/vocal performance of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire” (“Kiss me, baby! Eeeew, feels good!”).
Instrumental talents can be a superb choice for pageant systems like Miss America.
Musical Instruments used as Pageant Talents
Note: (*) indicates she won the national title; (T) indicates the performance won talent.
- piano (****T)
- violin (**T)
- marimba (**T and two 1st runners-up to Miss America)
- flute (*)
- fiddle (T*)
- harp (*)
- bass fiddle (T*)
- banjo (T)
- accordion (T and 1st runner-up to Miss America)
- saxophone (T*)
- organ (*)
Musicians – Choose Music with Showy Techniques
Be sure and include in your performance the types of techniques that will catch judges’ attention … and gain points.
Marian Cox, a piano and organ instructor with over thirty years of teaching experience and a decade of pageant involvement recommends that pageant musicians choose music that’ both familiar and shows off different technique. “Classical music played well is a winner every time,” she says, rattling off several examples, “Grieg, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Debus. From beginning to end their music is really beautiful and showy.”
The best pageant music – whether it is popular or classical – catches audience interest and keeps it. A good musical selection “makes you sit up and take notice right away,” says Cox. “You don’t want to wait until two minutes into the piece before you hear something exciting.”
Cox advises that contestants include “Fast tempos with fingers running up and down the keyboard,” because they “certainly show off years of study and practice…” However, she warns, “the technique has to be there.” According to Cox, ideal music should feature various techniques:
- attention-commanding opening (arpeggios are ideal)
- recognizable melody
- correct balance between hands
- shading of loud and soft, fast and slow
- trills, arpeggios, and other impressive techniques
- use of the whole keyboard
- exciting ending (glissandos are always intriguing)
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