Photo by Lucy Wimmer
By Alena Churikova
February 13-16, renowned ragtime pianist Bob Milne visited Sewanee. Bob Mile is famous for his ability to play music simply by ear, as well as for his “four-track” mind, which allows him to listen to four different symphonic pieces at the same time and tell the exact position of each note.
On February 13, Milne played at an Evening at Chen Hall for the Vice-Chancellor and several students. After performing with Visiting Assistant Professor of Piano, Bernadette Lo, Bob Milne had a conversation with students who were interested in his life and career. A self-taught pianist, he spent several years playing at saloons and restaurants.
“When you play, never try to show people how talented or clever you are, show them how great the music can be, and they will come to listen to you again and again,” suggested Milne to young Sewanee musicians.
The next day, Milne held a meeting with piano students, teaching them some of his methods. According to Milne, a pianist should hear the music, pay attention to every note, and actively listen.
“There is always music around us, in cafés, in shopping malls, and we simply turn off our ear to be able to talk to our neighbors,” said Milne.
On February 16, Milne gave a concert that lasted about two and a half hours. The performance began with a Nashville bluegrass group, Boy Named Banjo, that performed several songs that they wrote during their last visit to Sewanee after being inspired by its beautiful natural landscape. One song was dedicated to one of the most romantic places at Sewanee, Morgan’s Steep.
Then Milne himself came on the stage and started to play. There was no written program for the concert, and the leaflets contained only names of musicians. It seemed as if Milne himself did not know what he was going to play until the very first chord.
All the pieces he played were his own improvisations of famous tunes like “Careless Love” or “Blue Train Blues.” He began playing the melody itself and then he developed it, added chords, and modulated in other keys.
“Because I am playing the tune how I have heard it before, I often play the guitar or the trumpet lines on piano because in my head, I still hear it like it is the whole band who is playing it,” stated Milne.
At the end of the first part of the concert, the audience listened to guitar player Brian Nova. One of the top guitar players and singers in the nation according to Jazz Improv Magazine, students had the opportunity to attend a class he taught the day before. At the concert, he performed several songs, including the well-known “Autumn Leaves” and “I’m Walking.”
The second part of the concert was opened by a duet from Darryl Worley and Vince Marino, country music players and singers from Tennessee. After them, Milne came back to the stage and played another tune, followed by his comments about the genre of the piece and its remarkable characteristics. At the end, all the musicians gathered on the stage and performed together “Don’t Forget Me, Tennessee,” a song Milne wrote during his last visit to Sewanee.
“You will hear it, and you will leave this hall humming it,” promised Vice-Chancellor John McCardell.