Wayland and Miss Texas prepare for A Grand Evening

September 7, 2011

PLAINVIEW – It’s been a few years since Leah Kay Lyle Gabriel graced the stage at Wayland Baptist University’s Harral Memorial Auditorium, but it is a stage she knows well.

“It will be fun to be back on the Harral stage,” Gabriel said. “Every one of my piano recitals was held right there in Harral Auditorium.”

On Saturday, Sept. 17, Gabriel will once again take center stage at Harral as one of the featured performers for A Grand Evening. The special piano concert will celebrate Wayland and Steinway Pianos as the School of Music continues to raise funds for its 88 Keys program to offset the cost of purchasing a new Steinway and Sons Model D Concert Grand Piano. The concert will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students. A reception will follow, and the School of Music will raffle off a special Steinway inspired floral arrangement, designed by Tiffany Barnes at Petals, that will be on display.

The concert will also feature solo performances by Dr. Gary Belshaw, professor of music composition at Wayland, Dr. Richard Fountain, assistant professor of collaborative piano, and Mark Pair, piano artist in residence. Local pianists will conduct group performances, and young piano students will take the stage for a special rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” arranged by Dr. Fountain.

“I don’t feel like I deserve to be in the ranks of the professors of music who will be playing there,” Gabriel said. “But I am very honored and flattered that they still remember me as a Plainview pianist.”

Gabriel started playing the piano as a young girl and eventually parlayed her talents, gifts and personality into the title of Miss Texas, 1989, moving on to compete for the Miss America title. Gabriel has a display in her honor at the Hale County Hall of Fame exhibit in the Museum of the Llano Estacado.

“[Playing the piano] is just something that I loved,” Gabriel said. “I was dying to play the piano when I was so young that I couldn’t even read. I learned to read music before I could read words. My mother helped me with that.”

Gabriel began piano lessons at the age of 7 with Bobbie Lee Farmer as her instructor and diligently practiced for several hours every day.

“I would practice a couple of hours a day just because I wanted to,” she said. “Even through junior high and high school … I was really busy with cheerleading and homework and all those things that kids do, but I got up and practiced every morning for an hour before I went to school. I loved it.”

Gabriel still practices and plays at church and social events, but her practice time isn’t what it used to be. She and her husband, Brent, stay busy with two kids, Garrett, age 12, and Olivia, age 9.

“It’s all about their schedules now,” she said.

In fact, Gabriel is helping with an event at Garrett’s school Friday evening before the concert and is planning on flying to Plainview late Friday night.

On Saturday, Gabriel will reach back to her Miss Texas and Miss America pageant days and perform the fourth movement of the Ginestera Sonata, the same piece she performed in competition. Although it has been several years since she played it, Gabriel said it is all coming back to her.

“Muscle memory is really a phenomenon that I don’t think I really appreciated until I went back and played something that I haven’t played in a long time,” she said. “Thank goodness. It would be hard to learn it from scratch right now.”

Gabriel said the sonata is a physically demanding piece that requires a lot of strength in areas for which there is no way to train, other than to just play the piece. Along with the sonata, she will perform and arrangement of Chopsticks and Lists Hungarian Rhapsody.

Dr. Fountain, who has worked with the performers in scheduling and setting up the event, said the evening will be fast-paced and fun. There will be piano ensemble groups playing together, as well as the group of piano students from the area.

“We have never done anything like this before,” Fountain said. “There will be a little bit of everything. We are trying to get together as many people and as many styles as possible.”

Fountain said there may be as many as eight pianos on the stage and when the students are performing, there may be as many as three pianists at each instrument.

“There will be a lot of funky, fun music,” he said.

For more information on Wayland’s 88 Keys program, visit the Web site at WBU.steinwaypianos.com, or call Linda Grover in the School of Music at 806-291-1076.