Sara Red had nightmares the day before the competition. Laura Bolton danced around nervously before her performance. And Andrew Yang's hands were sweating until he took the stage.
All normal before a competition -- especially one as intense as yesterday's Columbia Orchestra Young Artist Competition.
"I was shaking backstage," said Laura, 12, who has been playing the flute for four years. "It was a little better when I got on stage."
Laura was one of a dozen young musicians who competed yesterday at Howard Community College's Smith Theater for a chance to play a solo with the Columbia Orchestra on March 5. More than 40 family, friends and supporters, including a few fathers toting video cameras, filled the performance hall. Four flutists and one tuba player competed in the wind category; five violinists and two cellists competed in the string category.
At day's end, the judges -- Marion Goodrich, Victoria Perkins, and Sally Wagner -- picked a winner, alternate and honorable mentions for both groups.
Martha Cargo, a flutist who played Frank Martin's "Ballade," won in the wind category, and Xinzi Liu, a violinist who played Maurice Ravel's "Tzigane," was chosen in the string category.
"All of the finalists are really wonderful, talented kids," said Elaine Newhall, president of the Columbia Orchestra, an ensemble of local amateur players that holds about six performances a year.
The orchestra began in 1977 as a chamber group, and grew into a full orchestra about 10 years ago. Orchestra directors enjoy developing young talent, Newhall said, and they have offered this competition for the past several years to give musicians in Howard County middle and high schools a chance to perform.
"We feel it's really important for a community orchestra to have a way to reach younger musicians," Newhall said.
The competition also gives the musicians a chance to play solos before an audience, she said. A preliminary tryout was held in November, and 14 string players and eight wind players competed for the chance to advance to yesterday's final rounds.
Yang, a 16-year-old Centennial High School senior, said competitions have helped him improve as a violinist by giving him experience playing in front of a crowd and inspiring him to practice more.
"It brings your level of play to a much higher level," said Yang, who performed Max Bruch's "Concerto in G Minor." "I was nervous at first, but once I played for a minute, I started enjoying it."
Red, a 14-year-old freshman from Atholton High School, said she practices the flute daily and has 45-minute weekly lessons to prepare for competitions. Before each performance, she does breathing exercises to calm herself.
Michael Red said his daughter has one other ritual before a performance: On the day of the competition, she doesn't practice the piece she's going to play.
"She never wants to play the piece until she's on stage," he said.
Cargo, a 15-year-old sophomore at Oakland Mills High School, takes the opposite tack. She said she had practiced her selection so many times, she barely got nervous yesterday.
"I held a pretty solid performance throughout," she said.
The alternates were Laura Bolton and Sherry Choe, a violinist. The honorable mentions were: Red; Caitlin Tencher, a flutist; Crosby Tencher, a tuba player; Yang; Eric Yeh, a violinist; and Ekaterina Mukhina, a violinist.