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North Texas physician tests his skills at the Cliburn Amateur Competition

Noah DeGarmo q8 (2).jpg
Ralph Lauer
The Cliburn
Noah DeGarmo playing in the 2016 Cliburn International Piano Competition

Thirty-nine contestants, from age 38 to 72, will compete in the contest, which starts Wednesday in Fort Worth.

The 8th Cliburn Amateur Piano Competition opens this week in Fort Worth with 39 musicians from 17 countries. The contest was delayed for two years because of COVID, so the pianists have waited a long time for their chance.

The 44-year-old Noah DeGarmo works in emergency medicine at Arlington Memorial Hospital. Working in the ER is hardly a piece of cake. But after awhile in any profession, he said, you know the ropes.

"I've gotten to the point in emergency medicine where it's not necessarily easy," DeGarmo said. "But I kind of know what's going to happen. But being a professional musician is incredibly hard."

DeGarmo knows this -- having played in concerts, formed the Boulanger Piano Quintet in Dallas and entered the 2016 Cliburn Amateur Competition.

Dallas physician Noah DeGarma rehearsing at the 2016 Cliburn Amateur Piano Competition
Ralph Lauer
The Cliburn
Dallas physician Noah DeGarma rehearsing at the 2016 Cliburn Amateur Piano Competition.

The two-year delay for the contest gave him the opportunity to hone his art — including playing a recital last month at Cornell University, his alma mater, where he studied piano under Xak Bjerken.

"It's physically taxing," he said, "Just creating a full solo recital. There's a lot of time you have to put into it."

That's why, DeGarmo said, "working in the E.R. is easy compared to playing the piano. Obviously there's a lot of enjoyment in it. But when you're doing something like the Cliburn, where you're taking your playing to the next level, it demands so many different things."

DeGarmo hasn't entered amateur piano competitions for the slim chance of launching a concert career. His dream now — and always has been, he said — is the chance to perform on a professional level — to play with the Fort Worth Symphony in Bass Performance Hall, which the six finalists do.

"So the possibility of even just getting to the finals," DeGarmo said, "is worth all the work."

The winner gets $2,000, a pair of custom boots — and the opportunity to play with the Calgary Civic Symphony.

The 8th Cliburn Amateur Piano Contest continues through Oct. 18th.

Got a tip? Email Jerome Weeks at You can follow him on Twitter @dazeandweex.

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Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.