Amidst the crowd of parents and grandparents clutching cameras, Ralph Kalberloh stood out.
Wearing a visor and sweatpants, he listened attentively Saturday afternoon as children and performers played an array of piano pieces.
He didn't know any of them. But after each pianist finished playing, Kalberloh was the performer's biggest fan. As he patted their shoulders and told them how beautiful their music sounded, the young musicians beamed with bright smiles and proud parents offered appreciative thanks.
But Kalberloh was also keeping a keen eye out for his wife, who was shopping in Macy's while he listened to the young musicians in the entrance to the store.
He hadn't come here for the lively piano performances, but he was happy he'd stumbled upon them.
"If you want the truth, I'm here because my wife is still shopping, but I actually do like piano," Kalberloh said, chuckling.
The Kalberlohs drove from Jefferson City for a shopping trip and happened upon the first day of the Mid-Missouri Area Music Teachers Association's annual Musicathon. The two-day event gives eager students the opportunity to show off that they've been practicing in weekly lessons.
Wearing a pink princess crown and matching dress, 6-year-old Amy Dong made her first public performance. She had only been taking piano lessons for six months before she played "The Dance Band" for the Macy's shoppers.
She wasn't taking piano lessons for the glory of the public recitals, though. "I always wished I could play the 'Sleeping Beauty' song," Dong said with a cheerful smile.
Later in the program, MU sophomore Khalid McGhee performed an portion of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 21.. He played the piece with an air of confidence, his fingers moving gracefully across the keys with ease.
"I can't explain how comforting it is to play," McGhee said.
Paola Savvidou, Musicathon chairwoman and president-elect, gave each of her students a standing ovation as they walked back to their parents in the crowd.
This year's performers were raising money for the Boys & Girls Club of Columbia. After learning that the organization had a piano but no one to teach the kids, Savvidou wanted the Musicathon to help the club pay for a piano teacher.
Savvidou taught music at the Boys & Girls Club in Madison, Wis., before moving to Columbia. That experience inspired her to help out the local chapter of the club.
She hopes that this year's Musicathon will raise about $900.
But the performances aren't just about raising money. They also allow the performers to gain confidence through public recitals, Savvidou said.
"I love being able to help students find their self-expression on the keys," she said.
After spending about 45 minutes cheering the young musicians on, Kalberloh's wife finally finished her shopping, and the musicians' biggest fan left the store. But the performances didn't stop. The Musicathon will continue 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m Sunday.
Supervising editor is Edward Hart.