PROVO — Dressed in concert attire, with their long brown hair parted on the left, Hilary Mauler and Tiffany Delgado look like sisters. But it was the hours they invested side by side in a practice room that created the synergy that helped them win two major competitions and land a national tour.
Mauler and Delgado each began piano lessons at age 4, and first met as undergraduate piano performance majors in the same class at Brigham Young University. Mauler, however, left school to serve an LDS mission, while Delgado continued on to complete her degree and begin working on a master's. They didn't begin playing together until last spring when they took a piano ensemble class from their private teacher, BYU piano professor Irene Peery-Fox.
Peery-Fox, the same professor who taught The 5 Browns, saw potential for the pair, and suggested they play some of the duets they learned in class for their upcoming recitals.
"Usually for duos you try to match them in every way — that's what makes an outstanding duo," Peery-Fox said. These two had similar training, similar personalities and they happened to look alike, too."
They also have the same drive to compete and excel, according to Mauler. So when Peery-Fox encouraged them to enter the National Federation of Music Clubs' Ellis Duo Piano Competition, an elite competition for professional players that requires two hours of material, the pair signed up on a whim.
"It really was a shot in the dark," Mauler said.
The pair also decided to enter the United States International Duo Piano Competition, which attracts competitors from as far away as Russia and China, using some of the same repertoire as the Ellis competition. Because the U.S. International competition sorts entrants into age groups, their chances of success seemed higher in that one.
But the BYU duo won both.
"Both of us are still blown away that it happened," Mauler said. "I'm kind of reserved — I don't usually jump around — and I totally jumped around."
Winning the Ellis competition in Mississippi came with an interesting perk: In addition to a sizable cash prize, the top duo also receives a two-year contract to perform across the country with the National Federation of Music Clubs.
The duo currently focuses on a classical repertoire, particularly classical composers like Mozart, romantics such as Rachmaninoff and a few impressionists. Though they don't play the pops, Peery-Fox believes they have a good shot at a professional career.
"They're delightful personalities, very vibrant," Peery-Fox said. "They absolutely can catch an audience. With all of that, they're great pianists. They're quite a show — if they continue, they could go beyond those two years of management."
The duo performed Lutoslawski's Paganini Variations, its winning piece, during a BYU commencement exercise April 25. They're scheduled for a performance in South Carolina this June. They also plan to appear in concert at BYU again this summer.