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Charleston Sonatina Festival
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The Festival

The Charleston Sonatina Festival provides piano students and composers with an opportunity to explore and expand their skills in the Sonata/Sonatina genre, as well as to perform in a welcoming yet competitive environment. The abundance of sonatinas and sonatas in various levels and styles makes these pieces the ideal manifestation of musical breadth, thus allowing every aspiring pianist to experience complete musicianship. 

Charleston-area students are invited to participate in the festival in two areas: Piano Performance and Composition. Students are welcome to take part in one or both areas. 

• Students in the Performance area will audition with a movement of a sonatina or sonata, demonstrate technical requirements related to the key of their performed piece, and answer questions related to their piece and “sonata form”. 

• Students in the Composition area will create a musical composition for solo piano and submit their work (along with a short written explanation) for consideration by a professional panel. 



AuditionsSaturday November 11, 2023. Audition times will be assigned after registration. 

Winners’ Performance: Thursday November 16, 2023 6pm Winning students will perform their piece at the Sanctuary of the Second Presbyterian Church of Charleston as part of Academy's Rush Hour Concert Series. 

Registration deadline: Saturday October 28, 2023. 

*Registration fee is $20 per student. 

*Teachers are asked to register their participating students. Please submit one payment for all students at the time of registration. 

*Students participating in both Performance and Composition should pay separate registration fees. 

*No refunds can be given after the registration deadline. 



Charleston Academy of Music - Downtown Campus                                              

342 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29403 (The Education Building of the 2nd Presbyterian Church)


Winners’ Performance:               

2nd Presbyterian Church Sanctuary

342 Meeting Str. Charleston, SC 29403

Piano Performance Area Guidelines

Peformance Guidelines


The Performance competition is open to piano students (K-12) in the Charleston area. The Composition
competition is open to all students (K-12) in the Charleston area. All students must have been studying with their teacher for at least 2 months by the time of the audition.

Performance Competition Divisions:

Piano students will be assigned a competition division based on the difficulty of their performed piece – not age
or years of study. The Sonatina Festival uses the difficulty levels generated by pedagogue Jane Magrath to group students in to one of the 5 following competition divisions:

I      Beginner/Elementary (Magrath levels 1-2)
II     Late Elementary (Magrath levels 3-4)
III    Early Intermediate (Magrath levels 5-6)
IV    Late Intermediate (Magrath levels 7-8)
V     Advanced (Magrath levels 9-10)

VI***NEW***    Pre-College (Magrath levels 10 and above and outside of Magrath leveling system)

Jane Magrath’s books Piano Literature for Teaching and Performance and A Pianist’s Guide to Standard Teaching & Performance Literature contains descriptions of and difficulty levels for most music used by piano teachers. Teachers who do not have access to these guides may purchase a copy at Amazon and  here, or are encouraged to contact Festival organizers before the registration deadline to learn the Magrath level for their student’s piece.

In the rare event that a student’s selected movement does not appear in Magrath’s Pianist’s Guide, the teacher is
asked to contact Festival organizers before the registration deadline. In this case, the Festival organizers will determine an appropriate difficulty “Magrath-level” for the piece.

Audition Procedures

Students competing in the Piano Performance category will be tested in three separate elements during their audition:

1. Performed Piece:

Students will perform a single movement of a sonata or sonatina for a panel of judges. The piece does not have to
be memorized, but students will earn more points toward their final score if the piece is memorized.

 ***In an ongoing effort to ensure even more objective adjudication, auditions this year will be held behind a screen (AKA “blind” auditions)***

Repertoire Requirements

Students should select a single movement from a piano sonatina or sonata that is in “sonata form”. Students may
perform movements from nearly any composer and time period, and almost any first movement from music labelled
“Sonatina” or “Sonata” will qualify for the Sonatina Festival. However, performance selections should conform to the
following criteria for “sonata form” (as taken from the Grove Dictionary of Music, vol. VII page 888):

1. The movement must have 2 contrasting musical themes.
2. The movement should express the 2 musical ideas by moving from the Tonic to the Dominant key (or another tonal center).
3. The movement will usually consist of an Exposition, Development, and Recapitulation.

Sonatas or Sonatinas that would likely not qualify for the Sonatina Festival include:


  •  Baroque sonatas in binary form (such as by D. Scarlatti).

  •  Sonata movements that use the “theme & variation” format (such as the 1 st movement of Mozart’s Sonata in A Major, K. 331).


Exceptions to the Sonata Form requirement:

Many elementary-level “sonatinas” are not completely in “sonata form”, but still display two contrasting
themes. These pieces are permitted at the elementary levels.

Additionally, some sonatinas and sonatas from the Classical era are written in sonata form, but with a slight alteration (a theme is missing in the Recapitulation, the piece starts with an Introduction, etc.). Examples of such
sonatinas include the first movements of: Sonatina in C Major by LaTour, and Sonatina in G Major Anh. 5 by Beethoven. Students are encouraged to perform these pieces, but should be prepared to discuss the piece’s form during the Interview component.

Teachers with additional questions are encouraged to contact Festival organizers.

Performance Time Limits:

There are no time limits. Students will have approximately 10 minutes to perform their piece, display technique
requirements, and to answer interview questions from the judges.


Additional Performance Guidelines:

Generally, no photocopies allowed. However, the student may perform from a photocopy if they do not plan to
perform from memory. Even then, an original copy of the score must be presented to the judges.
The score that is presented at the registration desk for the judges must have measures numbered. Students are also allowed to annotate their music as an aid for the Interview component. However, it should be noted that students who correctly answer Interview questions without the aid of having their score annotated will likely receive a higher Interview score.

2. Performance Technique Requirements

Please click HERE to find the specific elements the students will be asked to perform.

3. Performance Interview Component:

After performing their piece, the student will be asked a few questions about their piece and how sonata form applies to it. The judges will modify their questions to reflect each student’s age and general level (as illustrated by the piece performed). The following questions are examples of questions that students will be asked.


  • What are the 3 main sections of a sonata or sonatina called? Where are they in your piece?

  • Where are the “A” and “B” themes in your piece? Older students may be asked to describe how the two themes contrast.

  • In which measure does your piece move to the Dominant (“A” or “B” theme)?

  • Point out a chord cadence in your music.

  • What key is your piece in?

  • Does your piece display any exceptions to sonata form? If so, how?

  • What is a sonata?

  • Which historical era is your piece from?

  • Can you tell me anything interesting about the composer of your piece?


Reminder: Students are allowed to annotate their music in preparation for the Interview. For example, students can mark where each theme or section of the piece begins, students can write in important chord names, and students can mark interesting chordal cadences on their submitted sheet music. However, it should be noted that students who correctly answer Interview questions without the aid of having their score annotated will likely receive a higher Interview score.

Performance Scoring & Prizes:

Piano Performance students will receive a numeric score for their performed piece, technique requirements, and interview questions (see Judge’s Ballot). The student in each competition category with the highest overall score will receive a $50 cash prize, and will be invited to perform their piece at the Winner’s Performance. The two students (outside of the 6 overall Performance winners) with the highest Technique and Interview scores will both receive a $25 cash prize.

In the event of a tie, the judges will select the winner for the given category.

Composition Area Guidelines

Coposition Guidelines

Charleston area music students are encouraged to compose a solo piano movement inspired by the Sonata Form for the competition. The work should be written specifically for this event and not have been performed prior. Compositions do not have any time limits. Composers are welcome to compose in any style, and will submit program notes of at most 100 words to explain how their pieces are inspired by the principles of the sonata principle. 

Music should be printed using a music formatting program such as MuseScore (free online), Sibelius, or Finale. Neatly handwritten scores may be acceptable as long as they are completely legible and free of any ambiguity. Expression and articulation must be clearly notated. 

All entries must be submitted electronically as a pdf by 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, November 12. Students are also encouraged, but not required, to send an mp3 recording together with their music. Computer-generated midi files are acceptable.  


Scoring and Prizes

Composition judges will assign the student’s piece in to one of three composition divisions:

                I         Beginner

                II        Intermediate

                III       Advanced

The judges will give a numeric score to each piece. All decisions by judges are final. The judge will consider overall cohesiveness, creativity, the program notes, and presentation of the piece in critiques. Students should not feel constrained by any musical era, and, if so wish, should be encouraged to explore harmonies and textures across all musical styles. 

The highest scoring piece in each division will win a $50 cash prize, and will be recorded for the Winner’s Performance. Composers may perform their piece themselves, or invite someone to; otherwise, one of the piano faculty at the Charleston Academy of Music will premiere it. 

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