Ole Miss

Published on May 23rd, 2022 | by University of Mississippi


World Championship Old Time Piano Playing Contest, Festival Returns to Ole Miss

Annual event’s 46th season May 26-29, 2022 at the University of Mississippi, Oxford venues

After going virtual the past two years, the 46th annual World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival returns to an in-person format next weekend in Oxford and at the University of Mississippi.

Events are set for May 26-29 at the Old Armory Pavilion on University Avenue and in Nutt Auditorium on the Ole Miss campus. A silent movie luncheon on Saturday, May 28 is set for the Ole Miss Band Hall.

This is the festival’s fifth season in Oxford, following a 41-year run in Illinois.

“We have some fabulous guest artists this year,” said artistic director Ian Hominick, UM associate professor of music. “We actually have a larger playing field from previous years. As of today, we are at 33 contestants that are coming from all across the U.S. – 16 states – plus Great Britain and Japan.”

“We also have entries from Austria and Germany in the New Rag Contest, but they are having contest personnel perform their pieces.”

Featured guest artists include Carl Sonny Leyland, Brian Holland, Adam Swanson, and Oxford artist Bill Perry Jr.

“Carl Sonny Leyland is known for his blues and boogie-woogie style,” Hominick said. “Sonny is coming from California, where he resides, and will also be doing a workshop, ‘All About the Blues & Boogie.’

“Three-time champion Brian Holland will return as judge and also do a workshop. Co-emcee and four-time champion Adam Swanson will not only emcee the contests, but also perform during the silent movie luncheon.”

Held annually to coincide with Memorial Day weekend, the festival boasts the largest, most comprehensive competitive events for pianists in 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 as they vie to advance to the finals.

The preliminary round of competition for both the regular and senior divisions begins at 1 pm Saturday, May 28, with the semifinal and finals competitions at 1 pm Sunday, May 29. The New Rag Contest takes place at 6 pm Friday, May 27, and the junior division contest begins at 9 am Saturday. All contests are set for Nutt Auditorium.

Besides the competitions, the festival offers workshops, after-hours parties, an epic singalong of old classics and special tours. The Old Armory Pavilion will host an opening party featuring The Tune-Ups and all the after-hours events.

At 11:45 am Saturday, Swanson will play the piano accompaniment for two 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.

The two short films are The Bell Boy starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Buster Keaton; and Chasing Choo Choos, starring Monty Banks.

“Fatty Arbuckle’s work is a great introduction to short silent comedies for those who have never seen them,” Swanson said. “‘Chasing Choo Choos’ is a shortened version of a feature-length movie called ‘Play Safe,’ starring a talented but largely forgotten actor of the 1920s, Monty Banks.”

The silent movie luncheon is a popular event for the public, Hominick said.

“Tickets include an excellent box lunch, and are $20,” he said. “We ask that people order in advance so we have enough lunches for everyone.”

Limited tickets may be available at the door, he said.

By Edwin B. Smith

Adam Swanson, a four-time winner at the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival, will serve as master of ceremonies for this year’s competitions and will perform for the silent movie luncheon. Submitted photo
Contest hosts interview Kevin Zhou (center) before he competes in the Junior Division of the 2017 World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival. Submitted photo
Paul Orsi, of Mission Viejo, California, shows off his championship trophy from the 2019 edition of the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival. Submitted photo
Paul Orsi, of Mission Viejo, California, competes in the 2019 edition of the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival. Submitted photo
Oxford musician Bill Perry Jr. is among the guest artists for this year’s World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival. Submitted photo

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About the Author

The University of Mississippi, affectionately known as Ole Miss, is Mississippi’s flagship university. A member of the elite group of R1: Doctoral Universities - Highest Research Activity by the Carnegie Classification, Ole Miss has a long history of producing leaders in public service, business, academics and the professions. Its 16 academic divisions include a major medical school; nationally recognized schools of accountancy, law and pharmacy; and an Honors College acclaimed for a blend of academic rigor, experiential learning and opportunities for community action. Acclaimed as one of the nation’s most beautiful, Ole Miss's main campus is in Oxford, which is routinely recognized as one of the nation's best college towns.

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