Upper St. Clair guitarist impresses in her first-ever competition
It was love at first listen for Mahima Reddy.
“My family went on a vacation to Nevada, and I heard a flamenco player,” she said about catching a fleet-fingered guitarist’s performance, which made quite an impression on the then-seventh-grader. “When I got back, I begged my mom to take me to the nearest guitar shop.”
Unlike many would-be virtuosos who lose their enthusiasm when they can’t play like Carlos Montoya right away, Mahima has met the challenge of learning Spanish classical guitar styles to the point where she makes quite the impression on listeners of her own.
The Upper St. Clair High School senior recently placed third in the high school division of the prestigious Philadelphia Classical Guitar Competition as part of a festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society. She actually was the top student from a public high school, as the two musicians who finished ahead of her are home schooled.
Believe it or not, the event marked Mahima’s first-ever competition.
“It was nerve-wracking. I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I haven’t played in front of too many audiences.”
Most of those previous occasions were with the Pittsburgh Classical Guitar Society, with which Mahima has been playing since she was in 10th grade. Her experiences prompted her to seek information on other such groups, including the well-established one on the other side of Pennsylvania.
“I had been practicing and playing some pieces that I felt I could perform well for the competition,” she said, and so she submitted recordings for her entry “just a few days before deadline.” The judges promptly selected her as a semifinalist.
During the festival, she performed a required piece, a Valse by 19th-century French guitarist-composer Napoleon Coste, and one of her choice, “Capricho árabe” by Spain’s Francisco Tárrega, who is considered to have laid the foundations for 20th-century classical guitar.
Those foundations feature intricate arpeggios combined with chord structures that are far from easy to play.
“There have been many times when I’ve been frustrated,” Mahima will admit. “But I think knowing that the end product will be just beautiful has helped me.”
Scott Elliott, her instructor for four-plus years, pointed to other attributes that have contributed to her success.
“I believe many of her accomplishments are brought on by her upbringing, as well as her own drive to succeed in whatever challenge she’s faced with,” Elliott, who teaches guitar at West Virginia and West Liberty universities, said. “Although she came to me as a complete beginner, her work ethic and drive soon catapulted her to a level where she, and I, knew she could seriously consider music as a profession.”
Music is just one discipline in which Mahima excels. She is editor-in-chief of Upper St. Clair High School’s literary arts magazine, Montage, and her writing has been published in various creative writing anthologies. Also, she earned a first-place finish in last year’s Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science state competition.
As for her musical instrument of choice, she quotes Grammy Award nominee Christopher Parkening: “The power of the classical guitar lies in its small and pervasive voice.”
And she can identify.
“I think I can be very soft-spoken,” she said, “but I am passionate about what I love.”