Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Enjoying the Ride

That's exactly what a packed house at Omaha's Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center did this past Sunday.

Doing the driving (courtesy of the River City Theatre Organ Society): Donnie Rankin, the 27-year-old Ohioan who's been wowing theater-organ audiences all over the world for the last nine years; and the Pathfinders, that award-winning barbershop chorus from Fremont, NE.

When Donnie climbed aboard the Rose Theater's three-manual, 21-rank Wurlitzer pipe organ (built in 1927) to deliver Busby Berkeley's "All's Fair in Love and War," he became the youngest performer to ever do a Rose Theater RCTOS concert. [He made club history a little after 3:00 PM (Central time).]

This year's program was titled "From Broadway to Hollywood," and Donnie made that message stick right off the bat. His next tune was George Gershwin's "They Can't Take That Away from Me," from the 1937 movie "Shall We Dance." And that was followed up by a number Michel Legrand and the husband-and-wife team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman penned 32 years later for a movie called "The Happy Ending:" "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" 


Donnie showed his sense of humor right from the start, riffing from time to time about the Rose organ rising from (or getting lowered into) the pit: "I'd better not move to my left, or I'll fall into the abyss." 

Speaking of movies...after Donnie played "What Are You Doing," he gave a little demonstration of just what a theater organ was supposed to do for a silent film. (That's why Robert Hope-Jones developed the instrument in the first place; the folks at the Wurlitzer Company originally termed these products as "unit orchestras.") 

We then got to see- and hear Donnie cue- "One Week," one of Buster Keaton's early (1920) silents. (Buster was trying to use the title span of time to put up a prefab house, and...well, uh...)

Donnie R. closed out the first half of the 2016 RCTOS-Rose extravaganza with "Petite Waltz." 

When he came back out for Part Two, the man from the Akron area fired up two disparate selections: "The King Kong March" (from the 1933 movie) and good ol' "Take Five." (The 1958 Paul Desmond tune that put Dave Brubeck on the map was my favorite number in the whole show this past Sunday.)


Then came the Pathfinder Chorus.


Jacob Ritter's 90-member a cappella group- one of the twenty best barbershop choruses in the whole world- lived up to the billing and more, stirring up the crowd with six numbers. [The standouts were "Good Vibrations" (that's right, that "Good Vibrations") and a medley consisting of this country's five service-academy songs.] 

The barbershoppers' sixth number was actually a Pathfinders-Rankin collaboration that also celebrated America.


After the Pathfinders received thunderous applause, Donnie ran the concert's anchor leg...where he delivered "Over the Rainbow," the tune the American Film Institute determined was the greatest of the 100 greatest film songs. 

Donnie closed it out by playing a "Star Trek" medley to celebrate the franchise's 50th anniversary. (That's right- on Thursday, 9-8-1966, Americans got their first opportunity to turn on their TV sets and watch NBC's new sci-fi series about James Kirk and his crew. And three months and two days later, the Beach Boys took their "Good Vibrations" to the top of Billboard's US pop chart.) 

Well, actually...the "Star Trek" tribute didn't close it out.

Donnie came back to knock out Milton DeLugg's "Rollercoaster," used in another old TV show, CBS' What's My Line? 

In all, "From Broadway to Hollywood" clocked in at about two hours and a half.

And the ride was so enjoyable the 150 minutes just flew right by. 

Thanks, Donnie! Thanks, Pathfinders!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Northwest Iowa, Haven't You Had Enough?

I was born in Iowa, raised in Iowa, and educated in Iowa.

And I'm ashamed that US Rep. Steve King (R-IA) was born in the Hawkeye State, too.


Matter of fact, I'm heavily ashamed.   

I remember when he decided he wanted to go out for a seat in this country's House of Representatives. 

The year was 2002, and King was seeking the seat that, at the time, was held by fellow Republican Tom Latham. (Redistricting sent Latham to head for another Iowa Congressional district to fight to keep his place in the US House.) 

The reconfigured 5th District- the prize King was looking for- included Council Bluffs. (Meanwhile, Latham ended up having to fight another Republican incumbent, Greg Ganske, for the right to represent Iowa's 4th District.) 

At the time, I read an Omaha World-Herald article that talked about one of King's early campaign stops...a church in Council Bluffs. In the article, it talked about how some African-American people were standing in the back of the same room where the then Iowa state senator was campaigning.

Storm Lake native King asked: "Is this the back of the bus?" 

I thought to myself: "Jim...can you say 'red flag?'"  

King (a state senator since 1997) went on to top three other GOP hopefuls in the 5th District's House primary; on 11-5-2002, he crushed his Democratic opponent, a Council Bluffs city council member named Paul Shomshor, 62%-38%. 

SAK grabbed every county in the district except Pottawattamie...the one that contains Council Bluffs. 

He went on to win the next four elections by landslides, winning reelection during that eight-year period by an average margin of 26.5%. In 2008 and 2010, King snared all 32 counties in his district. 

Then came 2012.

Because of the 2010 Census, a House seat was taken away from the Hawkeye State. (Iowa's population grew by 4% between 2000 and 2010- not nearly enough of an increase to allow the state to keep five places in the 435-member House of Reps.)

While the new 3rd District (Southwest Iowa) resulted in Latham having to fight Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell for the right to represent it, the reshaped 4th District (Northwest Iowa) placed King in competition with Christie Vilsack, the former Iowa first lady who moved back to the state to try to kick King out of Congress. 

King went forth, 53%-45%; then in 2014, he mowed down Jim Mowrer, 62%-38%. 

You know what hurt about King's win over Vilsack?

Six months after launching his sixth term of office, the man who calls Kiron, IA home popped off about proposed immigration legislation: "For every [undocumented immigrant] who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds- and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."


I cringed when I found out ol' Kingie said this.

*It wasn't the first time I cringed over something King said or did as a US representative. Three years earlier, King defended the use of racial profiling by law-enforcement officials: "It's not wrong to use race or other indicators for the sake of identifying people that are violating the law." 

*In an early (2005) House vote, King voted against the $52 billion package earmarked for victims of Hurricane Katrina. His excuse: "Whatever happened to fiscal responsibility?" 

I'll bet the next time a major atmospheric disaster hits Northwest Iowa, Steven Arnold King- if he's still in the House- will be the first to scream for money to repair the damage (especially if a tornado levels Kiron).  

*A lot of the information going into this post came from Wikipedia; because of wikipedia.org, I found out that King has a Dixie Swastika (oops...I mean Confederate flag) on his office desk. 

Didn't somebody tell this man that Iowa was part of the Union during this country's Civil War? 

*King's one of the many, many reasons the Republicans can't draw Latino/a/x American voters...thanks to remarks like this about HUD Secretary Julian Castro: "What does Julian Castro know? Does he know that I'm as Hispanic and Latino as he?"

Yeah, Steven.

And I'm Spongebob Squarepants.  

*And how about Steve King's recent efforts to prevent Harriet Tubman's profile from replacing that of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill?
In trying to block this country's Treasury Department from modifying the currency, King called the attempt to put Tubman on the $20 "sexist" and "racist."

To him, it's not about the Underground Railroad's conductor. "It's about keeping the picture on the $20. Y'know? Why would you want to change that? I am a conservative. I like to keep what we have." 

It's a good thing King was in high school in 1964 (the year he turned fifteen)...when Benjamin Franklin's profile on the half dollar was replaced with John F. Kennedy's. (But then, King probably wrote a letter to the editor of his high-school paper to complain about the change.)

*If you're not cringing along with me right now, maybe this is the tip of the iceberg for you: King's equally infamous remarks delivered at last week's Cleveland Hatefest (oops...I mean Republican National Convention). 

Iowa's longest-tenured current US rep appeared on MSNBC's coverage of this year's GOP confab. He was part of a panel moderated by Chris Hayes (of All In fame); Esquire columnist Charles Pierce was there, too.

Pierce talked about how the 2016 Republican assembly could be the last one where "old White people would command the Republican Party's attention." 

The message made King bristle, so he said: "I'd ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?" 

Well, if this gun-rights advocate from Northwest Iowa had calmed down for a little bit, he would've realized the Chinese gave the world gunpowder. And he would've come to understand that we use Arabic numerals (that's right, 0 through 9) in our everyday lives.

Plus, King would've come to dig that the corn harvester (what's Iowa without corn?) came from the mind of Henry Blair, a Marylander who came up with this invention in 1834. 

Blair was the first African American (or one of the first) to receive a patent after coming up with an invention. 

And all that's just scratching the surface. 

So, there you have it. If you live in Sioux City, LeMars, Spencer, Storm Lake, Spirit Lake, or some other community in Northwest Iowa, ask yourself what Steven A. King has done for your House district...other than keeping it in the headlines. 

Are you really proud to get "represented" by the man InsideGov labeled as the least productive member of Congress? (What legislation of his has King managed to get out of committee?)


What keeps you voting for this proven bigot?


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Real Pain

These last sixteen days have basically been the pits for me.

I'm still in pain...even if it's not the physical kind.

First and foremost, I'm grieving the loss of a friend from my Adult Children of Alcoholics days, Rosemary "Billi" Whelton (12-24-1944/7-21-2016), who went on to become a Great Plains Ragtime Society member. 

Here's how she looked in 1963, the year she graduated from Omaha Cathedral High School.
 

I really loved Billi's sense of humor...and her generosity.

Next, I'm hurting inside over the consequences of a corporate, job-related decision. (I'll just leave it at that.)

And I'm still unhappy about how this year's Ragtime to Riches Festival went. Billi didn't get to attend it, because she spent the bulk of 2016 in hospice after being diagnosed with the cancer that ultimately cost the former smoker and recovering alcoholic her life. 

On the run-up to R to R 12.0 (in fact, an hour before the event's workshop got started), I took heat over missing this year's World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival...the first one ever held in Mississippi after the previous 41 took place in Illinois.

My absence from this year's Memorial Day weekend get-together was labeled a "disappointment."

IT DOESN'T MAKE A DIFFERENCE THAT, FOUR MONTHS AGO, I SENT AN EMAIL ANNOUNCING MY IMPENDING ABSENCE TO THE VERY PERSON WHO WENT ON TO CALL MY NO-SHOW A "DISAPPOINTMENT!"

I emailed several other OTPP wheelers-dealers to tell them I couldn't make the trip this year.

To repeat: I'm to undergo cataract surgery in my left eye later this year (or early in 2017).

Before the surgery can begin, I need to pay the $165 I owe for the work done on that same left eye (12-14-2015) to repair its retina...and cough up an additional $1,500 before the clinic that did the retina work can touch my left eyeball again.

Yes, I've got health insurance through the place where I work...but it's useless in a case such as this.

It takes at least two weeks for people to recover from cataract surgery. I've got two weeks- ten working days- left here in 2016 to use as paid vacation time.

Because of the impending surgery, this year's personal paid vacation time is spoken and accounted for.

All of this on top of the University of Mississippi charging more than the Old-Time Music Preservation Association (the previous OTPP steward group) did not only to attend the contest, but also to enter its events.

Here's my question for those who've criticized my decision not to try to come to Oxford, MS, for OTPP 42.0:

GIVEN WHAT'S CURRENTLY ON MY PLATE, WHAT THE HELL WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO??!!#@*? 

You tell me. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I've Got Some Really Good News and Some Very Bad News

First, the very bad news:

Only six tickets were sold for this year's Ragtime to Riches Festival, held at Omaha's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ. (Last year, the Great Plains Ragtime Society sold thirteen ducats.)

Now here's the really good news:

All the attendees really enjoyed themselves at this past Sunday's event.


Admittedly, 7-10-2016 was a scorcher here in the River City. (7-12-2015- the day of the previous R to R Festival- turned out to be hot outside here in Nebraska's largest city, too.) 

Well, some things were different about the twelfth R to R. One of the differences was...a new workshop presenter. 

2016 represented Faye Ballard's first year of giving a Ragtime to Riches workshop. This year's topic was one that one of the 2006 performers, Nan Bostick (one of the best ragtime historians who ever lived), touched on: "Women in Ragtime." 

And like Nan's presentation from a decade ago, Faye's presentation hit the spot. 


The Champaign, IL native presented a dozen rags by women composers. (Did you know that at least 500 women wrote one rag or more apiece during the 1899-1917 period?) 

For me, some of the standouts in Faye's workshop were "The Allen Glide," written by Louise Allen in 1915; "Chicken Chowder," penned a decade earlier by a St. Louis teenager named Irene Giblin; Adeline Shepard's rousing "Pickles and Peppers;" "The Thriller," a 1909 May Aufderheide rag; and a 1907 number, Julia Lee Niebergall's "Hoosier Rag."


When it came time to change from workshop presenter to concert performer, Faye switched the focus to some of ragtime's men composers. First up was "The Harlem Rag," the Tom Turpin piece that was the first published rag written by an African-American composer; then 1899's "Original Rags," the first of five Scott Joplin numbers the recently-retired office manager from Central Illinois played at this year's R to R. 

Faye didn't leave the other two members of ragtime's Big Three behind; she turned in James Scott's "Frog Legs Rag" and Joseph Lamb's "Ragtime Nightingale."

Then she gave two examples of what rag pianists would play in the "cutting contests" of that 1899-1917 period: "It Had to Be You" and "Mack the Knife," both of which actually were written in the 1920s...long after the Ragtime Era ended. 

Faye wrapped it all up by coming up with a fine, fine version of "Twelfth Street Rag." 

I was scheduled to go up at 4:15 PM (Central time)...but I ended up deciding to start my own concert at 4:30 PM after helping Marty Mincer get set up for the anchor leg of R to R 2016. (We'll take a look at the anchor leg later!)

Actually...my turn at bat had a head start, preceding the workshop by ten minutes, the better to help out a festival fan who needed to attend her oldest grandson's birthday party. 

So I wrapped up the festival's open-piano session with my first two concert selections: "In the Good Old Summertime" and "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans."

Once the clock ticked 4:30 PM, I picked my own concert thread back up and continued to focus on tunes I'd done in competition at the event Faye serves as its coordinator: The World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival.

Mindful of the fact that the Illinois-turned-Mississippi competition started out as a fundraiser for the Monticello (IL) Railway Museum, and thinking about how contestants initially had to choose a rail-related song among their selections, I offered up "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad..." one of just two numbers I'd been able to play as a finalist (the year was 1994).

In addition, George Giefer's 1899 winner "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" worked out fine (well, at least the audience thought so); so did my closer, "In My Merry Oldsmobile."

This concert included three rags: Charles Hunter's 1899 "Tickled to Death," W.C. Polla's 1904 "Funny Folks," and E. Warren Furry's only rag of consequence, his 1902 "Robardina Rag."

And this machine operator from here in Omaha (by way of Des Moines, IA) called an audible, replacing would-be selection "Grand March (from 'Aida')" with "Take Your Girlie to the Movies (If You Can't Make Love at Home)."

Speaking of movies...the R to R anchor leg was a movie. 

For the first time in R to R history, we'd show a silent film. In this case, it was Harold Lloyd's 1920 winner "Get Out and Get Under." 

And instead of giving a conventional concert, Marty was in town to cue the movie. 

With Marty (the apple farmer from Hamburg, IA) providing the DVD, some friends from the church I go to providing a DVD projector, and First Central itself coming up with a DVD player, we were ready to go. 

We didn't even need a screen.

The DVD projector went on top of the church's turn-of-the-20th-Century Anderson & Newton upright piano and was aimed at one of the blank walls at the church's Memorial Hall.

That setup worked out fine. 


Marty's accompaniment (on the church's turn-of-the-21st-Century Yamaha grand piano) was right on. (He even threw some post-1920 wrinkles in there, and also pulled out a song from 1962- "Puff, the Magic Dragon-" during a scene where Harold was lighting up a cigarette.)


"Get Out and Get Under" was some kind of hilarious. 

Now if we'd been able to get more people to come to First Central this past Sunday. 

I'm thinking of some projects that can get more people (especially people here in the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area) to check out the R to R Festival...and help keep old-time piano alive.

If you've got any suggestions, feel free to pass them along. (Nope...giving up isn't an option!)

It's time for some really good news and some very GOOD news.


Thursday, June 30, 2016

What about the Other Judicial Nominees?

It finally happened.

372 days after President Barack Obama nominated him to serve as a district judge for the US District Court for the State of Nebraska, Robert F. Rossiter Jr. finally got the gig.


This past Monday, the US Senate voted, 90-0, to confirm Rossiter, who's also the newly-elected president of the Nebraska State Bar Association...and the Purdue University and Creighton University grad (he got his doctorate at Creighton) assumed the bench yesterday.  
Congratulations to Rossiter...and all the very best to him. 

Now it's time for the two dozen other district-judge nominees to get their confirmations. 

In fact, it's long been time.

One of the reasons Rossiter's got a new job is US Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE),
who fought like you-know-what to get the Eighth Judicial District a replacement for the now-retired Joseph Bataillon. 

On the other side of the coin...Fischer's one of the US senators fighting like you-know-what to prevent Merrick Garland from even having a hearing as Obama's nominee to replace the now-deceased Antonin Scalia.

You know the big Republican rationale: "No president has ever nominated anyone for the US Supreme Court during an election year, and the Senate has never voted to confirm a Supreme Court nominee during an election year. And no Supreme Court justice ever took the oath of office in an election year."

That's the same line Fischer gave me and so many other Nebraskans when she received emails that pleaded for a hearing for Garland.

Fischer turned 37 in 1988...an election year. (Guess who she voted for on 11-8-1988.) 

1988 was also the year where, 49 days into the year, a 51-year-old Californian named Anthony Kennedy became the newest SCOTUS justice.
 

How about it, you Senate Republicans?

Isn't it time to give Garland his due?


How much longer does he have to wait? 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Goodbye, Decatur

Things were starting to look up for the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival- at least from a competition standpoint- as a new century arose. The contest was now firmly established as a Decatur, IL attraction, what with the perfect location (the newly-renamed Holiday Inn Select)...a venue where ragtime fans no longer had to worry about it raining on the parade.

What could go wrong?

We'll tell you later.

But first...let's talk about the 2000 version.

That year, 23 contestants weighed in (14 in the Regular Division, nine in the Junior Division); while eight JDs were trying to wrestle the division's crown away from the new kingpin, Adam Yarian, everybody in the RD group fought to get the newly-vacated title...left open because the then rules said that Brian Holland couldn't go after a fourth straight championship.

Two Reg Division contestants had never tasted the OTPP experience before: Barbara Curry and Michael Urban-Piette. 

Meanwhile, John McElhaney ended a sixteen-year wait between berths in the contest (an event that underwent all sorts of changes since he last tried it in 1984...the biggest being the competition's move indoors in 1987).

One thing hadn't changed for Johnny Mac: He proved he was still RD semifinals material. 

In the JD competition, Jerry Ailshie, Erin Long, and Ashley Leverenz were back to tussle with Adam Y. and Harrison Wade. But for 2000, they were joined by first-timers Will Best, Charles and Chris Korban, and the newest Danville (IL) discovery, Lauren Clayton. 

When all was said and done, Harrison passed up Jerry (and Charles turned out to be the better Korban)...but Adam from Maryland was able to notch a third straight Junior Division championship. 

Fourteen-year-old Adam did it...he punched his ticket into the contest's adult division.

Back in the adult-division wars, Mimi Blais was determined to leave no doubt that 2000 was her year...no questions asked. 

The question was: "Who's gonna place second?"

At first, Michael Stalcup was running second...but he flamed out in the semifinals, and fell so far behind that Dan Mouyard, Marty Mincer, and Faye Ballard passed him up (with Faye taking second for herself at the end of the RD second round).

Well...if 2000 wasn't going to Mimi's year, would it be Faye's? (After all, when OTPP was still a one-division competition, Faye nearly ripped the crown away from Joybelle Squibb in 1976, the contest's second year.) 

As it all turned out, Dan and the Two Martys (Mincer and Sammon) passed Faye up...but all four of 'em couldn't come out ahead of Mimi. (Marty S. placed second in the Regs.)

It all came down to dueling versions of "Kitten on the Keys:" Mimi's version was better than the rendition Marty M. brought home.


And no woman contestant has since snared the Regular Division's top prize. 

Circumstances prevented Mimi from coming back to Decatur for the 2001 C&F...so that meant both division titles were there for the taking. 

2001 was the year the Memorial Day weekend extravaganza boasted 24 contestants (sixteen RDs and eight JDs); seven pianists were new to the contest this time...and all but two were Regular Division performers.

David Feurzeig and Janet Bullock were two of 2001's first-timers; so were Al Roma (an American living in Germany at the time) and Andrew Barker (a Briton living in America back then).

Lauren's piano teacher, Bev Wolf, filled out an entry blank, too.
Bev was the instructor who also showed Ashley and Erin- as well as 1999 JD performer Marcie Hunt- the ropes.

Speaking of JD...it was a one-Korban year (Charles carried the family banner this time) and the first year Illinoisan Karah Gettleman and Iowan Sarah Davison (who grew up to become a Tennessean and help start a great band called High Road III) got in there. 


I first met Sarah two years earlier, when I competed at the National Old-Time Country, Bluegrass, and Folk Music Festival and Contest (still held at that time in Avoca, IA). In 1999, the then sixteen-year-old grabbed that festival's ragtime piano championship...a title I'm told I almost won on my own first try. 

Getting back to 2001...it looked as if Al was going to triumph on his first try. He boasted a four-point preliminary lead over David and the youngest of the RD performers, ol' Adam Y. But Adam Y. and Al R. lost ground in the division semifinals, and Dan went from a fourth-place tie with Faye to a second-place tie with Al...while David F. scooted to the top coming into the Reg finals.

OTPP Weekend 2001 turned out to have quite a few firsts:

*Harrison emerged victorious (his initial title) in the younger competition...in a year where the second-place and third-place JD finishers finally got awarded prize money, too.

*Sarah became the first female Junior Division contestant to receive prize money (she finished third while Will got second place). 

*David couldn't hang on to the top Regular Division spot...and, instead,
Dan M. became the first OTPP contestant to follow up a JD title with a championship in the RDs. (Adam, Al, and Faye rounded out the RD Top Five.)

2001 was also the year Decatur's Holiday Inn Select went under new management. 

This new management group decided to remodel the hotel...lobby, rooms, and all. And the danger was that the makeover wouldn't be done in time for 2002's Memorial Day weekend. 

Plus, the group's members felt the Holiday Inn Select had room for just one big musical event per year. As a result, the new team decided to prop up the Central Illinois Jazz Festival and turn its back on the OTPP Contest.

The clincher came from the Decatur Convention and Visitors Bureau, a group that had been giving the Old-Time Music Preservation Association $2,000 per year to help with advertising the contest.

On the eve of the 2001 get-together, bureau officials told OMPA: "We're cutting you off!" 

And so, for the first time in fifteen years, Ted Lemen and Co. needed a place for contestants to show their stuff on the 1883 Weber upright piano nicknamed "Moby Dink." 

When we come back to take another look at the history of the OTPP soiree, we'll learn about the contest's next site.

I'm Jim Boston...thanks for reading this blog!



Saturday, April 30, 2016

32 Contestants!

It's getting to be that time again...when ragtime musicians and their supporters gear up for the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival. And this year, the plot thickens.

The reason: After four decades of the event taking place in (as things turned out) four cities in Illinois (Monticello, Decatur, Peoria, and East Peoria), old-time piano's biggest competition (well, at least on American soil) begins a new chapter...on and around the campus of the University of Mississippi. This year's dates: 5-26/30-2016.

I won't get to go to Oxford, MS this time around. And the culprit is the cataract in my left eye. (It's going to have to be removed later this year or early in 2017, depending on when or if I'm able to receive a bonus from the plastics factory that currently employs me. And the eye-care clinic performing the surgery wants $1,500 up front- and the retina surgery I underwent on 12-14-2015 completely paid up- before an ophthalmologist can touch my left eyeball again.)

You bet I've got health insurance through my place of work.

It's just that, with its $1,500 deductible, the insurance is worthless when the staff at the eye clinic you trade with tells you: "We're going to have to shoot a laser into your eye."

Result: I've decided to retire from OTPP competition and focus on performing here in the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area.

I came back to this area on 3-29-1997, and as a result, I couldn't make the trip to Decatur that Memorial Day weekend (hadn't racked enough vacation time at my then-new gig as a data storage technician for an infotech firm).

So...I made gearing up for OTPP '98 one of my goals.

The 1997 Decatur experience featured an eighteen-player field (fourteen in the Regular Division and four in the Junior Division) in which Brian Holland grabbed the Traveling Trophy for the first time...and Noah Harmon beat out Mindy Dunkle on technical points for the JD title. 

The next year, Noah, Mindy, and their fellow 1997 JD competitors John Clark and Neil Blaze had to fight off seven new younger contestants: Kara Huber, Peter Segrist, Joe King, Katrina Kappes, Noah's younger brother Zack, and two names we'd hear from during the decade to come: An Illinoisan named Harrison Wade and a 12-year-old Marylander named Adam Yarian. 

Meanwhile, the adult field saw a 50% increase in size over its 1997 counterpart. First of all, Patrick Kelly, Theresa Milhoan, Bruce Walker, a Tennessean named Michael Stalcup, and a Kentuckian by the name of Allen Dale (maybe you've seen Allen's YouTube offerings) entered the OTPP wars for the first time. And then Mimi Blais, Will Hahn, and I came back after a year's absence. (Gale Foehner, Arlene Stoller, and defending RD finalists Adam Downey and Steve Kummer were no-shows this time around.)

To top it all off, Floridian Dorothy Baldwin came back to C&F competition after a nine-year gulf...while Noah's and Zack's dad (and Linda's hubby) John ended an eleven-year sabbatical from going after the Big Loot. 

Not since the Kaizers in the middle 1980s had a whole family tried to grab the top OTPP prizes. As it all shook out in '98 for the Harmons of Winneconne, WI, it was Mother and Oldest Son Know Best. (Noah lost his Junior Division crown...but he still outplayed Zack. What's more, Linda snared a place in the Reg Top Ten...leaving John behind.)

With Mimi back to perform her brand of sorcery on the contest piano ("Moby Dink," a Weber upright built in 1883), she and Brian made it a two-person RD race. And Theresa (a teacher from Illinois) initially looked like a Top Five pianist. 

As Theresa flamed out in the Reg Division semifinals, Mimi broke a preliminary-round tie between herself and Brian to take a one-point semifinal lead...that evaporated when Brian aced his RD finals test, thanks to killer versions of "I've Found a New Baby" and "Handful of Keys." The Man from Indiana stood tallest again, while Mimi, Marty Mincer, John Skaggs, and Bill Edwards rounded out the division's money winners. 


The biggest news in Decatur that May came in the JDs. Neil was hoping 1998 would be his year...but it actually was the year old-time piano fans found out about Adam Yarian's greatness. 

A new force had emerged. 

Instead of 32 pianists (the record-setting 1998 total; the old mark was 31 in 1984) duking it out, 25 showed up in the Holiday Inn Select's green room on 5-29-1999. Of the previous year's newcomers in the RDs, only Michael and Bruce came back for 1999 in their quest to prevent Brian from becoming the fourth pianist to get three straight Reg championships. In addition, only one newcomer enlisted in that division: Tom Cortese. And Marty Sammon (the JD champ in 1994 and 1995) made it into the ranks of the RDs this time around- his first contact with OTPP pressure in four years.

By contrast, the Danville Connection made its debut in the Junior Division bracket.

"The Danville What?" Well, a Danville, IL pianist and teacher named Bev Wolf started getting some of her students into OTPP; the first ones were 1999 combatants Ashley Leverenz, Erin Long, and Marcie Hunt. 

Fellow Illinoisans Jerry Ailshie and Amanda Benoit joined Marcie, Ashley, and Erin as contest newcomers in the JDs for the last (or next-to-last, depending on your point of view) year of the 20th Century. 

Jerry outpointed all the other newcomers (Tom included!), but it just wasn't enough to keep Adam Y. out of the driver's seat in the younger division.

Meanwhile, the 1999 Regular Division race was looking like the one from the year before...except that Mimi was clearly ahead of Brian during the first two rounds. (There'd be no stopping her this time, and she'd bring the $1,200 top prize back to Montreal, QC.)

"Oh, yeah?" said Brian.

With another nearly flawless final round (it included "Dallas Blues" and Scott Joplin's "New Era Rag"), Brian put his name next to those of Dorothy Herrold, Mark Haldorson, and Ron Trotta.


He closed out an era and became, at 27, the youngest three-time undefeated RD champ ever.  

And so, the next question became: "With Brian Holland retiring unbeaten, who's gonna rule the Regular Division now?"

Stay with us and we'll find out.