scholarship helps music students

Pianist Katherine Monsour received Keynotes of the South Hills’ first scholarship in 1971. The scholarship was for $1,000, and she was the sole winner that year. Now, 47 years later, the organization has awarded a total of $374,000 to 177 collegiate-level music students of exceptional talent, and it continues to grow. The 2018 competition, on Saturday, May 19, at Mt. Lebanon High School Fine Arts Theatre, will feature a cash prize pool of $11,000, split between the top three winners and a runner-up.

“We are told over and over again by professors, our judicators and parents that there is not very much out there for financial assistance for music students,” says Paula Bongiorno, Keynotes of the South Hills president. “It’s nice that Keynotes can be there to help our future musicians and singers.”

Alvin Zhu, the 2012 Keynotes scholarship winner, is enjoying international success as a concert pianist and Young Steinway Artist.

Considering Keynotes’ many success stories, it is clear that a little bit of help goes a long way—Monsour went on to become the director of the Greater Pittsburgh Suzuki Institute at Pittsburgh Music Academy. One of 1979’s winners, David Flippo, later formed the contemporary jazz quintet FLIPPOMUSIC and become a key player in the Chicago jazz scene. More recently, 2011’s winner, Nicholas Capozzoli, has achieved top placements at numerous international organ competitions and is now a Doctor of Music candidate at McGill University in Montreal. Mt. Lebanon’s Alvin Zhu, Keynotes’ 2012 winner, is already enjoying international success as a concert pianist and Young Steinway Artist—and the list goes on.

Keynotes began in 1969 as an auxiliary to Music for Mt. Lebanon, a popular subscription series that in its heyday brought prestigious performers to Mt. Lebanon, including big names such as Helen Hayes and Van Cliburn. When the  series dissolved in 2015 because of lagging subscriptions, the Keynotes decided to reorganize, under Keynotes of the South Hills, as a way of continuing to support the arts in this area.

“There just aren’t too many organizations out there like Keynotes,” says Bongiorno. “Granting musical scholarships is such a special, unique mission.” The scholarship is primarily funded by individual donations from members, each of whom believes in the importance of helping young musicians fulfill their dreams.

Beyond the annual competition, Keynotes also hosts seasonal events, including theater outings, teas,  luncheons and its annual fashion show, which has become a major fundraiser.

“We were always the energizing branch of Music for Mt. Lebanon. We were the social part of it, in addition to the scholarships…Now we are looking into new ways for our members to be active, if they want to be. And we always encourage our membership to invite family and friends,” says Bongiorno, who emphasizes that the public is welcome at all Keynotes’ events.

She extends a special  invitation to non-members to come and watch the competition on Saturday, May 19, at the Mt. Lebanon High School Fine Arts Theatre. The performances will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with brief breaks in the morning, at lunchtime and in the afternoon. People can either come for the entire competition or stop by to watch a portion—volunteers will be there to ensure that arriving audience members do not disturb the performers. The judges will announce the winners at around 3 p.m.

The public is also welcome to RSVP to the awards brunch, which will be held at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 20, at the LeMont Restaurant  in Mt. Washington and will feature special performances from the winners. This new event is an opportunity for people to interact and celebrate with the scholarship recipients.

To RSVP to the awards brunch or for inquiries about membership, contact Paula Bongiorno at 412-341-3176. Please RSVP for the brunch by Friday, May 11. For more information, visit