"I'm just a Francophile," he said, describing his love for Paris. "It's a way I kind of reignite my passion for art and music."
This was Beard's fifth trip to the festival, which focuses on the performance of French music. In 1994, he received the Roussel Foundation Prize for the best performance of Albert Roussel's works. In 1998, he won the jury prize for the best performance of a work by a French composer.
This time, he was awarded $500 for playing music that is not typically part of his repertoire.
"I don't play a lot of Baroque music," said Beard, 35.
But when he read about the prize being offered, he got to work, preparing pieces by Francois Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau.
Beard's award was one of three given at the finale of the festival. The others were free tuition to return next year, awarded to a young performer, and the opportunity to perform in Paris and New York.
During the festival, Beard and the other participants performed several times and were involved in master classes in front of audiences.
"Over there, I do feel like the audience is a bit more educated," Beard said, because so many of them are versed in classical music. He likes to chat with audience members after his concerts despite his fragmented French.
As artistic director of the free Reynolds Hall Concert Series at Shepherd, Beard hopes to broaden the community's knowledge of music.
"We have an opportunity to expose people to a lot of music," he said.
Beard's great-grandmother had an "old, upright piano that weighed a million pounds," the keys of which he recalls touching as a 3- or 4-year-old. He started taking piano lessons at age 7.
It wasn't until ninth or 10th grade that he played seriously, practicing three or four hours a day.
When it came time to select a course of study, he chose music over microscopes, deciding that his heart wasn't in biology, another of his strong suits.
He did undergraduate work at The Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.
Then he worked for a year in the catering business and taught private piano lessons.
From there, he received his master's and doctoral degrees from University of Maryland, College Park, while teaching private lessons and sharing his skills with churches.
From 1990-94, he was organist and choir director at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Laurel, Md., a position that challenged him and boosted his performance skills
"It was really creative ... but you have to top yourself each year," Beard said. "I took it very seriously."
In 1993, he studied in Europe for the first time.
"It gave me a big shot in the arm and really helped me want to play the piano," Beard said. "It changed the way I played."
The Rockville, Va., native has been on stages throughout the United States and in Canada, England and France. He has performed with the Georgetown and Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestras, as well as the Richmond Philharmonic. The upcoming season includes recitals and master classes at Shepherd College and in Leesburg, Va., Washington, D.C., and the Polish Embassy.
Beard has also spent some time in a recording studio, where he created two CDs.
The first, "Leschetizky: Piano Treasures," was released at the end of 1996. The recording features works by Polish pianist and composer Theodor Leschetizky, the subject of his doctoral dissertation.
In the fall, Beard is releasing a CD featuring works by Frederic Chopin, whose style he said is reflected in some of Leschetizky's works.