Competitors for the 16th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition will soon be flying into Fort Worth ahead of the preliminary round, which begins June 2.

After they land, instead of taxiing to nearby hotels, the contestants will be met at the airport by local families.

Throughout their time at the competition, each of the 30 competitors will stay at the home of a host family. 

The Cliburn isn’t the only competition to invite local families to house competitors, but it’s not the default on the international competition circuit. In addition to giving competitors a closer look at life in Fort Worth, the stays have a history of forging close relationships. 

Marilyn Brewster and her husband, Brad, have hosted competitors twice before and were excited to find out who they’d be hosting for this year’s competition.

The pair still stays in touch and follows the careers of past contestants. In fact, Marilyn Brewster added, one of their past competitors was having a birthday the day after they learned the name of their new contestant — and she planned to send a birthday greeting.

“It’s thrilling and exhausting all at the same time. These kids are much younger than we are, and they do their best work between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., so after three weeks of the competition, it’s pretty exhausting,” Brewster said. “But it’s worth every minute of it. We just love them, and both of the competitors that we’ve hosted, we pretty much adopt as a son of our own.” 

In addition to sharing their homes, host families have an array of other duties.

“We have to be sure that they’re fed nutritiously and make sure that their clothes are cleaned and pressed,” Brewster explained. “They’re here for three weeks. So, when they finish a performance, then their tuxedo or their suit needs to be dry cleaned and turned around pretty quick. So we have to take care of that, (and) get them to where they need to be.”

While the host families do a lot of chauffeuring contestants from one place to the next, the Cliburn also pairs contestants with what they call “social hosts.” The young professionals are usually closer in age to the contestants and give them a break from the stresses of the competition by taking the musicians on outings to cultural landmarks around town. 

Both of these groups commit a lot of their time to the contestants, but longtime host Jon Suder says the experience of sharing your home is worth it.

“Imagine watching Michael Jordan in high school and watching him just practice eight hours a day in your driveway. But instead of hearing the basketball bounce, you hear magnificent music,” Suder said. “And when they’re practicing, you can’t tell it’s practicing, because at that level, it all sounds magnificent.” 

Suder, too, is still in touch with the past competitors who have come through his home, including Alessandro Deljavan.

Deljavan, whose expressive performances made him a crowd favorite, competed at the Cliburn two different times and was paired with Suder on both occasions. Suder has been able to visit Deljavan in his home country of Italy, and Deljavan has made his way back to Texas for visits as well. 

Kenneth Jones has never hosted a Cliburn competitor before, but his friends’ experiences and his love of the arts inspired him to become a host this year.

“I thought maybe about 20 years ago it’d be fun to host someone, but I didn’t have the house to do it until now,” Jones explained. “We have a wonderful home that we like to open up and share with everybody, and I think it’ll be a great experience to have someone because I’ve had friends who have hosted in the past and they have long term relationships with their competitors no matter how well they did, and I think that’s exciting.”

His partner, Jeffery Seider, shares that excitement.

“I love to cook and we love to entertain,” Seider said. “And we have four weeks of cooking and entertaining to do, and we’re looking forward to that.”

But the pair also acknowledges it will be an adjustment for them and their three dogs.

“I think hearing the same thing over and over again is probably what we’re dreading,” Jones said. “But we get to see the finished product when they’re on stage performing and competing — and that’s exciting.”

For Marilyn and Brad Brewster, who are about to welcome home their third contestant, their only regret is not hosting contestants sooner.

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here



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Marcheta Fornoff

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...