Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival Returns this Weekend

Event's 45th season set for May 23-26 at UM, Oxford venues

David Cavalari, from Eagan, Minnesota, performs a ragtime version of Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’ in a recent competition. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The 45th annual World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival opens Thursday (May 23) and runs through Sunday in Nutt Auditorium at the University of Mississippi. This is the festival’s fourth season in Oxford, following a 41-year run in Illinois.

“It’s a four-day celebration of ragtime, jazz, blues, honky-tonk, boogie and Tin Pan Alley piano music,” said artistic director Ian Hominick, UM associate professor of music. “The music is outstanding; we draw extremely talented musicians and visitors from over 30 states and abroad.”

Featured guest artists for this year include four-time champion Adam Swanson, Terry Waldo, Julie McClarey and Oxford artist Bill Perry Jr.

Held annually to coincide with Memorial Day weekend, the festival boasts the largest, most comprehensive competitive events for pianists in the musical genres of ragtime, traditional jazz and blues. Students up to age 18 can compete for cash prizes and trophies in the Junior Division; the Regular Division contestants vie for trophies and larger prizes; and the Senior Division is for ages 60 and up.

Performers compete in period costume, are interviewed before each round and show off their musical skills in an attempt to advance to the finals.

The preliminary round of competition for both the regular and senior divisions begins at 1 p.m. Saturday (May 25), with the semifinal and finals competitions at 1 p.m. Sunday. The New Rag Contest takes place at 6 p.m. Friday, and the junior division contest begins at 9 a.m. Saturday. All contests are set for Nutt Auditorium.

“The New Rag Contest is especially fun,” Hominick said. “In the regular competition, you’ll hear a lot of classic ragtime and other old-time traditional favorites, but the New Rag contestants compose and perform their own original works.

“The juniors are the future of this event, and it’s amazing how many young musicians are captivated by early 20th century American music.”

Besides the competitions, the festival offers workshops by guest artists, a silent movie luncheon with live piano accompaniment, dinners, after-hours parties, an epic sing-along of old classics and special tours. The Chancellor’s House, on the Oxford Square, will host an opening party featuring The Tune-Ups and all the after-hours events.

At 11:45 a.m. Saturday, Adam Swanson will play the piano accompaniment for three short silent film comedies. Modern audiences still love these classics, Swanson said.

“Even today, people of all ages love and appreciate the comedy geniuses of the 1920s,” he said.

Two of the short films feature “Baby Peggy,” played by the actress Diana Serra Cary, who, at 100 years old, is the only living star of the silent era. The third is a Harold Lloyd classic, “Get Out and Get Under.”

“The opportunity to see historic silent films from nearly a hundred years ago is a rare one, especially with live music on the big screen and an enthusiastic crowd,” Swanson said.

Anyone is welcome to attend the silent movie, Hominick said.

“Tickets include an excellent box lunch, and are $20,” he said. “We ask that people order by Friday so we have enough lunches for everyone.” Limited tickets may be available at the door, he said.

All-event tickets, day passes and individual event tickets are available for purchase online from the festival website, http://oldtimepianocontest.com/. Updates will be posted on social media at @oldtimepiano. For more information, contact Hominick at 662-915-1282 or oldtimepianocontest@olemiss.edu.