Sunday, June 2, 2013

Well, as Things Turned Out... things turned out, I actually did officially enter the 2013 World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival.

The afternoon of Friday, 5-24-2013, I met contest coordinator Faye Ballard (of "The Entertainers" fame) in the lobby of the contest's actual venue, Peoria's Sheraton Four Points Hotel (pictured below).

Found out from Faye that an opening had arisen after all.  

Man, being able to tune up the night before at the Sky Harbor Steakhouse sure helped.  

Without the tune-ups, I wouldn't have dared say "Yes" about entering.

It'd been four years since I'd been a contestant during an OTPP weekend.

Back in the saddle again...and this time, the ride was much more comfortable than up the street at the Hotel Pere Marquette in 2009.

We had 25 hopefuls this time (it would've been 26 if circumstances had enabled Steve Muncey to show off his old-time piano skills)...and the field included two former (one reigning) Regular Division champs (their stories were told in "The Entertainers," too) and the last two Junior Division titleholders. 

Nope...this time, I didn't draw the piece of paper labeled "1."

More fittingly, Daniel Souvigny (the 2012 JD winner) did.

The 12-year-old phenom was also one of seven Junior Division contestants in 2013...and one of two Daniels to play at the hotel's Main Hall. 

I didn't get to come to the Main Hall to hear Daniel S. tear through "Smashing Thirds" and "Nagasaki." And I got to hear the next two performers- newcomers David Maga and Slade Patrick Darrin- only because I was in the same rehearsal room as they when David and Slade tuned up. 

David (one of 18 Reg Division performers and one of ten first-timers across both divisions) knocked out rag favorites "Grandpa's Spell" and "Possum and Taters," while Slade's two numbers included "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now."

I pulled out the piece of paper with "4" on it...and this year, I felt really comfortable playing the contest piano, the 1883 Weber upright nicknamed "Moby Dink." (And they really liked what I set out to do with "Red River Valley" and...Giuseppe Verdi's "Grand March," from the opera it took him two years to write: "Aida," cooked up to commemorate the opening of the Suez Canal.)

I patterned my version of "Grand March (from 'Aida')" after what I thought would've been Del Wood's take on the opera's most famous piece.

Well, now it was time to join the contest audience...and join them in hearing the other OTPP contestants.

Contestant #5 was Bill McNally, the college instructor who now hails from New York (he previously lived in and worked in Pennsylvania). His sets are always entertaining (well, I like to think so!), and his first-round takes on "Magnetic Rag" and "Fascinatin' Rhythm" fit the bill.

Alex Poyner was next; one of his first-round selections was the durable "12th Street Rag."

After Alex came the second of four JD first-timers, Tanner Wilson. Tanner- the second of two Nebraskans duking it out at Four Points- weighed in with two more ragtime favorites, "Maple Leaf Rag" and "Kitten on the Keys."

Tanner (he's from Fremont) made some more history in that he was the first JD'er to come out of the Cornhusker State since Julie Ann Smith, the Hastings native who competed in 1992 and 1993...and went on to grow up to become one of the world's best harpists. (Julie Ann's version of "Tickled to Death" got me to learn that 1899 Charles Hunter rag.)

RD favorite- and retired math instructor- John Remmers came up next...and the man from Ann Arbor, MI showed 'em how "All the Money" and "Magnetic Rag" are really done.

I'm glad Samuel Schalla came back for his second taste of OTPP fun. He's a college student from Tubingen, Germany...and he had a lot of fun when he came to Peoria in 2012.

For Samuel, the fun multiplied this time around...and you could tell that with his versions of Joseph Lamb's "Bohemia" and Joe Jordan's "That Teasin' Rag."

Speaking of fun...the fun continued to grow exponentially thanks to Ted Lemen and Adam Swanson (he'd just gotten through winning the previous night's New Rag Contest...making him a seven-time winner across three divisions) teaming up to handle the emceeing.  

At certain points in the competition, Adam (you'll find him featured in "The Entertainers") and Ted gave demonstrations of just how old-time piano's supposed to sound. One of those demos involved Ted (the man who cooked up OTPP) playing a singalong favorite...followed by Adam restyling it as a rag.

The next contestant put Iowa (the state Adam left to attend college in Colorado) back on the Old-Time Piano Contest's map: Junior Division contestant Isaac Smith (out of the home of the U of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls). 

And high-school student Isaac nuked Moby Dink.   

Isaac's selections were James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout" and George Botsford's "Black and White Rag." When he got done with those numbers, Isaac had the crowd eating out of his hands...right down to the crumbs!

It was now time for another RD pianist to come up to bat...Maine's Doug Protsik, who was feeding a thirty-year drought between OTPP berths. 

Matter of fact, the last time Doug was in the contest, the event was held front of the Monticello (IL) Railway Museum (and subject to one atmospheric display after another).

Once Doug made his way to the Weber, he felt right at home as he put over "Buyback" and "Alabamy Bound."

Two more juniors rounded out the first half of the preliminary competition at the Sheraton: 2010 and 2011 JD champ Morgan Siever and fellow Illinoisan Megan Jobe, the youngest to go at it in 2013.

Morgan had her Sweet Sixteen celebration in April, and the pianist-softball player-basketball player from the St. Louis suburb of Carlyle, IL sought to extend the party (and get that JD crown back from Daniel S.) with "Grandpa's Spell" and "That's a-Plenty."

Ten-year-old Megan (a contest newcomer, too) did the last two selections of the morning: "Maple Leaf Rag" and "12th Street Rag."   

Megan's first try as a contestant reminded me of Morgan's OTPP debut (that happened in 2005)...and I hope Megan sticks with old-time piano. Just as Morgan showed in 2005 that she really had something at age eight, Megan showed me here in 2013 that she's got something, too.

After Samuel, RD contestant Russell Wilson, his mom Lynn, and I had something at a Culver's Butter Burgers not far from the hotel, we got back to the hotel to check out the second half of the Saturday competition.

And the first of the afternoon performers was...2007 and 2012 Regular Division kingpin Ethan Uslan (from- you guessed it- "The Entertainers").

This New Jerseyite-turned-North Carolinian opened his bid to make it two RD crowns in a row by delivering "Sing a Song" and movie theme "Ramona."

Minnesota's Jacob Adams missed out on joining Ethan in the RD's Top Five last year...and he came out on fire this year, heating up "Wall Street Rag" and "Cannonball Rag."

And the Regular Division contestants kept coming up, one after another. (Well, that's what happens when you go into a rehearsal room and draw a number out of a hat. You never know what you're going to get.)

What the audience- a more sizable one thanks to "The Entertainers-" got was some more fine, fine performances.

Damit Senanayake (from Washington's Seattle area) kept the fine, fine performances going. He topped his good 2012 first round by playing "Castle's Half and Half" in addition to May Aufderheide's "The Thriller."

Damit was followed by one of the 2012 first-timers, Floridian Bobby "Mr. Piano" Van Duesen...who kept the good times rolling in 2013 with the rag "Cum-Bac" and the novelty "Our Monday Date."

"Perfessor" Bill Edwards (check him out in "The Entertainers") took to the Main Room stage next...and he went on to show why he's been a Reg Division finalist more often than anybody else in C&F history. He provided the evidence with his versions of "The Poet and Peasant Overture" and "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue."

After the 1991 Regular Division champion came a newcomer named Domingo Mancuello.

Domingo comes from Pennsylvania, where he attends Philadelphia's University of the Arts. And I believe we're going to be hearing from him for a long time to come, what with the way he gets into playing those 88s. (Domingo brought his take-no-prisoners style to "Whispering" and "Krazee Bone Rag.")

Like Samuel, first-timer Jack Graham made the trip across the Atlantic Ocean to check out OTPP.

And I'm glad he did.

Before I go on with the selections, let me tell you that if you're going to be an OTPP contestant, you've got to wear something that people wore during or before 1929. And that usually means dressing up in period suits, flapper outfits, granny gowns, period tuxedos, and/or the famous "bartender's duds-" in other words, the shirt-slacks-vest-bow tie look. (Past variations have included Davy Crockett outfits, marching-band uniforms, and togas.)

Jack (from London, England) hit the stage in a suit that beat the band...right down to the hat.

Most important, I like how Jack takes chances with tunes (especially the ones we're used to hearing at the Old-Time Piano Contest)...and that's what he did with "Maple Leaf Rag" (his version starts in D-flat!) and "Cannonball Rag." 

To top it all off, Jack said that, coming into OTPP Weekend, he'd NEVER played in public before.  

Charles Mink (he's from South Carolina) told me he'd been thinking about packing it in (he became a C&F contestant in 2009)...but the way he played "Dizzy Fingers" and "How Could I Be Blue," I'm going to feel blue if he doesn't give next year's contest a try. 

Charles turned in his best work this year. (Well, I like to think so!)

One of Domingo's fellow U of the Arts students, fellow Keystone Stater Michael J. Winstanley, put the accent back on the 2013 rookies. Michael's got a style that's as joyous as Domingo's...and it showed in "Cheese and Crackers" and "New Orleans Joys."

Last year, Wisconsinite Daniel Levi came to Central Illinois to see "The Entertainers."

Daniel L. liked the OTPP experience so much he decided to come back in a contestant.

I liked his set, too; it had "Swanee" and Luckey Roberts' "Pork and Beans."

One more RD contestant to go...and coming up to do his thing was the older of the two Wilsons competing in Peoria.

Russell (he hails from Washington, DC) really served notice; he was sizzling right from the start, what with "Russian Rag" and "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad." 

Russell Wilson's 2013 playing had this message written all over it: "Don't mess with a pianist who plays in the White House."  

The last contestant for 2013 comes from Peoria, IL itself.

And his name is Matt Lauer. (No...not THAT Matt Lauer!)

THIS Matt Lauer was the seventh and last JD performer in competition at the Four Points this year. And he acquitted himself quite the first and only 2013 contestant to do Scott Joplin's "Elite Syncopations" and the fourth 2013 hopeful to play the number that put rags on the map to begin with. (That's right...good ol' "Maple Leaf Rag.")

Lots and lots of fine performances thus far at this year's Contest and Festival...and now it was time for contest judges Dean Gronemeier, Ian Hominick, and Terry Parrish to not only determine which ten (or more in case of a tie) Regular Division pianists moved on to the division's semifinals...but also find out which five Junior Division musicians earned prize money. (The JDs need to only prepare two numbers, while the RDs have to come up with six selections.)

When Dean, Ian, and Terry got back from deliberating, the three judges (it used to be four, but the Old-Time Music Preservation Association decided to take a page from American Idol) decided to give Matthew $40 for finishing fifth in the Junior Division competition, Slade $60 (fourth place), and Morgan $100 (good for third).

What's more, Daniel S. received a check for $125...while he watched Isaac walk off with the JD title and a check for $250.

And that made Isaac the third different performer to get the Junior Division championship in as many years.

When we come back, we're going to find out if a similar situation took place in the contest's Regular Division...and if they needed to make it an eleven-person RD semifinal.

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