Naples guitar student's hope for 'good experience' won her an international prize
Paloma Chaprnka is an 11-year-old who may feel she's getting that Siri pronouncement: You have arrived at your destination.
She just won the Houston International Guitar Festival championship in her age division from among 45 students in 10 countries.
Further, her teacher, guitar star Irina Kulikova, presented her a Simon Marty instrument, a brand professionals play for its volume and rich sound.
"She wants to be a professional guitarist and she has all the ingredients to make it. She has great talents," wrote Kulikova of her American student. "She listens very well to the advice of her teacher and never allows herself to go halfway — always gives a full 100 percent. And her parents give her all the support she needs."
The Pine Ridge Middle School student is serious about her instrument — she actually started playing at age 3, when her parents gave her her first kid-sized guitar. But she was floored about winning the prize, she admitted. Entering the Houston Classical Guitar Festival and Competition had been planned as one of those "good experience" contests for Paloma.
"My dad found it on Facebook," she recalled. "At that time we thought it was a small competition, with not a lot of people, nothing international, and he thought it would be a nice opportunity for me to try."
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Paloma is no stranger to competition, and she's a seasoned performer. She won a $2,400 scholarship and $600 cash in the Pensacola Fingerstyle Acoustic Guitar Competition in February. She has serenaded patients at NCH and has performed publicly on Fifth Avenue South.
Her father, Frank Chaprnka, is owner of Naples Guitar, a school for Suzuki and traditional guitar lessons. The senior Chaprnka teaches locally and long distance via Skype/Zoom, and was her teacher for seven years — and five guitars. She also won a masterclass with Grammy-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux at Pensacola State College, placing first in her age group at the age of 10 — "the youngest to ever win the competition," noted her proud dad.
He decided to introduce Paloma to Kulikova, whom the two saw in a Sarasota concert, for a classical performance appraisal. Kulikova volunteered to take her on as a student. But she lives in Sweden, So Paloma's weekly classes, sometimes as long a four intense hours, are via Skype with a teacher who's a continent away. Ironically, her classes began just when the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down social life.
The pandemic also shaped the Houston festival this year. Its six days of competitions, classes, open mics and social time were compressed and taken virtual. Paloma would be judged solely on her entry video.
She chose two keyboard works transferred to guitar: a Bach partita, and a Chopin waltz, both from Kulikova, who is known as a skilled transcriptionist as well as a performer. The works follow Paloma's appreciation for romantic- and Baroque-era music; she particularly likes works written for other instruments brought to the guitar. (Still on her transcription wish list: "Golliwogg's Cakewalk," from Claude Debussy.)
She was performing to her strengths. But Paloma, having learned what kind of competition she had, admitted she wasn't even online when the news was announced live. She and her mother chuckled at the memory.
"They didn't tell me that they were watching," Paloma recalled. "I was in the other room brushing my teeth, minding my business."
"Since this was an international competition with students from so many countries, we didn't want her to be disappointed," explained Danielle Chaprnka. "We didn't want her to be disappointed if things didn't go her way. We just tried to keep everything low-key. We thought, we'll just watch and see what happens."
What happened was that Paloma's name flashed onscreen, and her parents began shouting for her to join them.
"It was really amazing," she said, beaming.
It does conflict with her first career plan: to be a veterinarian. That's a career her cat, Citrus, would appreciate more.
"I really do want to be a veterinarian. But I really do want to be a classical guitarist as well," Paloma said. "Maybe," she added hopefully, "a little bit of both."
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.