MLAG Autoharp Championship

The MLAG Autoharp Championship is the largest (and we think most prestigious) competition for autoharpers in the world. Judging of the contest is completely blind: the judges can hear but not see the contestants, and the identity of the judges is not known before the contest. The contest was first run in 1991. To see a list of previous winners, go here.

New to the contest? Lucille Reilly, a three-time MLAG and three-time Winfield champ on autoharp (she’s also won on hammered dulcimer) has written an excellent article on competition tips that will help get you headed in the right direction. Even if you’re a veteran competitor, you will find these tips very helpful. Go here to read her article.

MLAG Autoharp Championship Rules.

  1. The Mountain Laurel Autoharp Championship is held during and affiliated with the Mountain Laurel Autoharp Gathering (MLAG).
  2. The Mountain Laurel Autoharp Championship is open to any person holding a ticket for the current year’s MLAG except:  (a) those who are performing as a billed or paid entertainer and (b) members of the MLAG Board of Directors.
  3. Registration for the contest opens at the start of MLAG and will be closed one hour before the contest is scheduled.  The first 40 eligible registrants will be admitted as contestants.  Contestants must be present backstage 30 minutes before the contest begins to draw for order of appearance and to receive final instructions.  Winners will be announced and will receive their awards immediately after the contest.
  4. Three judges will be chosen by the MLAG contest chair.  They will be sequestered and will not be aware of any contestant’s identity except by contestant number.  A sound check will be done by a non-contestant player just prior to the contest to make sure the sound system is working properly, and then the only adjustment to the sound system during the contest will be to the volume.  This may be done either in the house or in the judges’ location, or both.
  5. All autoharps (chorded zithers) will be allowed, including custom-made or modified instruments, with the maximum number of strings being 37. Chording assemblies of all types will be allowed.  Contestants may take only one instrument on stage in each round; however, a different instrument may be played in each round.  Any style of autoharp playing may be employed.  Instruments must be played acoustically through the MLAG sound system.
  6. Contestants may be accompanied by one other person playing an acoustic instrument other than autoharp.  The accompanying instrument will not be amplified.  Billed or paid performers or MLAG board members may not accompany contestants.
  7. Contest entries must be instrumental with no vocals.  Medleys are not allowed.  Contestants may not speak on stage during the contest.  Violations of any of these three conditions are grounds for disqualification.
  8. In the first round, each contestant will play two numbers.  The five highest-scoring contestants will then be entered in the second round.  At that time, two more numbers will be played, and the second-round scores will determine the winning order. 
  9. The decisions of the judges and contest chair will be final.

Suggested Judging Criteria

Arrangement (40 points) – difficulty, originality, and interest of the arrangement

Execution and Tuning (40 points) – clear articulation, dynamics, and playing in tune

Musicianship and Overall Impression (20 points)