Eyes on the Prize

August 1, 2007

Andrew Mays, MD, gave up music when he became a physician, but realized a dream come true when he won a prestigious amateur piano competition.

Key Points

Dr. Mays, who also is on staff at the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center and residency program director for the department of ophthalmology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, was a music student before he was a medical student.

"I was awarded a scholarship to study music at the University of Alabama with Amanda Penick in a program that ran like a conservatory," Dr. Mays said. "I was working hard as a music performance major using my elective hours to study pre-med courses like physics and calculus."

"I was doing well with piano, but didn't know if I loved it enough to live that kind of life," he said. "I wanted to be married and have a family, so I went back to Alabama in 1987 for medical school."

He performed one last recital that year to complete his master's degree in music from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The following years were focused on his medical career and his family.

"The music stopped," he said.

A new tune

As the years passed, Dr. Mays' desire to express himself as a musician remained. When he and his wife, a flutist, designed their own home in 2002, they knew that they wanted to incorporate music. Dr. Mays designed a room for his piano and found it thrilling to travel to the Steinway factory in New York to choose his instrument.

"I ought to have a bumper sticker that says: 'My other car is a Steinway,' " he quipped. "The novelty hasn't worn off. The piano I selected inspires me to practice."

One day, a piano tuner suggested that Dr. Mays participate in amateur competitions.

"It had been a goal of mine once, as a conservatory student, to compete in the Cliburn competition," he said. "When I quit playing in 1987, I left that dream behind. But now there was a spin-off of the competition for amateurs over 35."

Dr. Mays signed up for a competition in Colorado Springs, CO, to test the waters. He unexpectedly took second place in August 2006.

"I was very, very nervous and wondering why I was doing it," he explained. "But after that first competition, I felt incredible satisfaction at the accomplishment, got some good criticism, and felt compelled to practice harder."

Dr. Mays used time-management skills he had honed as a student to balance work, family, and piano practice-with practice taking a backseat to time spent with his kids.

At the end of May 2007, Dr. Mays and his family arrived in Fort Worth, TX, for the week-long Van Cliburn amateur competition. Seventy-five pianists from around the world were invited to compete. Dr. Mays hoped to make the semi-final round.

"I told myself that just competing was a dream come true and that I should just enjoy it," Dr. Mays said.