Old-Time Piano Playing festival returns to Oxford

Published 10:49 am Wednesday, May 22, 2019

This Memorial Day weekend the Nutt Auditorium will be taking a trip back in time as the University of Mississippi hosts the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival for the fourth year in a row. 

The 45th Annual event nearly did not see a 42nd year, as its 41-year run in Illinois was coming to a close and without a new place to call home was near to shuttering its doors. Then, artistic director Ian Hominick stepped in and provided a suggestion.  

“Quite by accident in 2015 I found out it was going to be (the festival’s) last year,” Hominick said. “The board was getting older and they weren’t very tech savvy. … I know the performers and a lot of the aficionados that come to it really wanted it to continue. So, I said ‘come on down (to Oxford) and take a look.’ We ultimately arrived at doing it at (Nutt Auditorium) because we have builtin pianos and tech staff.” 

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Since 2016, Oxford and Ole Miss has been home to the piano competition and festival, showcasing several styles of piano playing, including ragtime, jazz, blues, honky-tonk, boogie and Tin Pan Alley genres. 

The festival is held annually to coincide with Memorial Day weekend and boasts the largest, most comprehensive competitive events for pianists in the musical genres of ragtime, traditional jazz and blues. The competition side features three different categories: Junior Division, Regular Division and a new Senior Division. Ages up to 18 can compete in the Junior Division while the Regular Division will feature paints ranging from ages 18 and up and the Senior Division is for 60-and-up. 

Performers will compete in period costume, are interviewed before each round and will show off their musical skills in an attempt to advance to the finals. Preliminary rounds for the regular and senior divisions will be Saturday at 1 p.m. with the semifinals and finals starting at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The junior division competition will take place at 9 a.m. on Saturday.  

“It’s kind of a nostalgic niche, Hominick said. “It’s a throwback. Ragtime is the genre that most people would readily understand, but there’s elements of blues, honky tonk, boogie woogie, early 20th Century novelty songs.”  

The weekend features more than the competitions. There will be workshops run by guest artists, a silent movie luncheon with live piano accompaniment that features three short comedy films, dinners, parties and tours of the University Museum and the Blues Archives located in the Ole Miss library. The silent movie will be held at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday and two of the films feature ‘Baby Peggy’ who was played by actress Diana Serra Cary, who at one hundred years old is the last living star of the silent film era. 

The festival begins on Thursday and runs through Sunday. All-event tickets, day passes and individual event tickets are available for purchase online at http://oldtimepianocontest.com.