By Cheri Newton
Humble and accomplished, 17-year-old Tucson resident Levi Powe knows he should listen to his mother, Sharon, a piano player.
“She pretty much put the cello in my hand and said, ‘Play.’ And I played,” Powe says with a touch of humor in his voice.
Practicing and performing paid off. The teen finished first in the junior division at the Sphinx Competition in Detroit in February, outplaying eight semifinalists. He performed two contrasting movements of Bach’s Cello Suites, the first movement of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 and Villa Lobos’ Song of the Black Swan, a concert favorite for cellist/pianist duos.
Blessed with a broadcast-worthy voice, Powe is well spoken and mature.
“If you go into any field and you’re focused, you will be successful.” Powe explains. “It really helps to have outside input as well. My mom gave me a lot of really helpful input. She would hear things that I couldn’t hear or wasn’t paying attention to and that is one of the biggest factors that helped me in this competition.”
Powe’s teacher, Marybeth Tyndall, was instrumental as well. She is a cellist in the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and the Southwest string quartets. She earned a master’s degree in cello performance from the University of Arizona.
“She is a really great teacher,” he said. “She went with me to the Sphinx Competition in Detroit and accompanied me. We can play together very well.”
Tyndall and Powe’s piece confirmed his movement from semifinalist to a finalist in the competition.
Tyndall says one of her favorite moments at the competition was after Powe won and she rushed to the front of Detroit’s Symphony Hall to greet him. The audience, filled with Detroit students, chanted “Levi! Levi! Levi!”
“So much glory is given to people in other things like sports,” Tyndall says. “That moment when kids were calling his name was so unbelievably thrilling.”
As part of the competition, the semifinalists could take master classes and sit in on seminars. The Sphinx Competition’s aim is to encourage, develop and recognize classical music talent in black and Latino communities. Established artists judge the events and provide a symphony with which the students can perform.
“The idea is to give the kids a broader understanding of opportunities in this field,” Tyndall says. “I have had students do exciting things before, but this, for me, was so inspiring. I am so absolutely grateful for the experience.”
Homeschooled, Powe graduated one year early. He’s taking his time to decide his next step, but he definitely wants to earn a college degree. Tyndall says that the sky is the limit for Powe.
“With this win, he has the attention of schools around the country, and of summer programs,” Tyndall says. “So, he has many scholarships and opportunities available to him.”