Playing her way to Whitworth

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Rebecca Budai, 17, rehearses a piano performance at First Baptist Church Thursday in Coeur d’Alene. Rebecca plans to compete in Spokane at the Musicfest Northwest next week.

COEUR d'ALENE - Rebecca Budai is what her violin teacher refers to as a "dream student."

"This is what makes it worth coming here, it's why I do this," said Scott Grunsted of Northwest Academy of Music. "The reward is the results. It makes me almost forget, 'Oh, I was getting paid for this?'"

Rebecca, 17, of Athol, was recently awarded $40,000 in grants and scholarships by Whitworth University to study music in the fall. It's the largest academic scholarship a Northwest Academy of Music student has ever earned.

"You can't put stuff like that into words. There's no greater job in the world that brings that kind of joy," Grunsted said. "She's just like one of my kids."

Humble and modest, Rebecca said she feels "gratified" about her achievement.

"I wasn't expecting it," she said with a grin.

The home-schooled senior, who turns 18 on Monday, enrolled in piano lessons at the Northwest Academy of Music at the young age of 5. She began violin lessons at age 10 and is now capable of producing beautiful music with each instrument. While violin is a tad more difficult for the young musician, she said she enjoys them both.

"It's different because on piano you hit the note and it's usually in tune," she said. "But violin, you don't know for sure until you get it worked on and memorized that it's going to be the right tone. And you have to learn vibrato and stuff like that, which you don't have so much with piano."

To earn the scholarship, Rebecca was required to audition at Whitworth and showcase her skills and dedication to the craft. She spent as long as five hours daily rehearsing piano and violin in preparation for the big school audition. She said although tonight marks her 24th recital in 12 years of music education, the audition was much more anxiety-inducing than any recital.

"I'm a little bit nervous (for tonight), but not nearly as much as I was for the auditions," she said. "I've done a lot of recitals. I know it's not a big deal, but I practiced violin a lot (Thursday)."

Having performed in so many recitals, she knows what to expect, but the Whitworth audition had more at stake. About nine of her loved ones attended to give her encouragement.

"She's the only person who's ever come to the audition with an entourage," said her mom, Melissa. "They were talking about our group for days, apparently."

Melissa said she feels really blessed by her daughter's accomplishments, and the scholarship is just a small part of it.

"She's had an amazing year, not just with all the music, but she was on a Christian volleyball team and they won the championship," Melissa said. "It's been one thing after another, and then at their awards banquet, she got the Christian Character Award for their team, so that honestly means more than even the scholarship money because of her strong walk with the Lord and commitment to follow Him. We're feeling very blessed with her."

Rebecca's piano teacher for two years, Linda Allen, said she is proud of her pupil.

"I feel she deserves it, she's earned it," Allen said. "It's on track."

Rebecca won the gold medal for piano at the 2014 Musicfest Northwest and is preparing for this year's competition, which takes place in Spokane from Sunday through next Friday. Her victory last year earned her a spot performing on KPBX Radio.

Rebecca said at college she will most likely study piano pedagogy - teaching piano skills to individuals - so she may bless others with the love of music after she graduates.

She will be performing "Vivaldi's Concerto" in G minor as well as Beethoven's "Sonata Pathetique Opus 13" on the piano at First Baptist Church during the Northwest Academy of Music's spring recitals, beginning at 6 tonight. The recitals are free and open to the public. First Baptist Church is located at 424 E. Wallace Ave.

Info: www.nwacademy.com

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