ROCKINGHAM — A local pre-teen pianist will be featured this week in the virtual World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest.
John Patrick Hutchinson, 12, was selected as one of the performers for the contest’s Junior Division, which is open to players up to 18.
He is the oldest son of John and Sharon Hutchinson of Rockingham, and is homeschooled along with his younger siblings, 11-year-old Alex and 8-year-old Evie, who also take piano lessons.
John Patrick has been playing half his life — since the age of 6 — and studies under Dr. Valerie Cox of Southern Pines.
For the contest, he chose two pieces by ragtime composer Scott Joplin: “Sunflower Slow Drag” and “Wall Street Rag.”
Contest rules, according to the website, encourage, but don’t require, players to pick songs written from 1890-1939, including the styles of ragtime, early jazz, blues, stride and novelty
“In most youth performances or at a piano festival, the pianists are usually asked to pick two contrasting styles of piano pieces — from different musical history periods — to play,” Sharon Hutchinson said. “Some choose a combination of Baroque, Classical, or Romantic styles.
“John Patrick picks a piece from one of those periods, since he primarily plays classical music,” she continued. “However, the other piece is invariably a rag.”
His mother said he became obsessed with ragtime when the family went to Walt Disney World, and he saw the outdoor piano player at Casey’s Corner on Main Street U.S.A.
“I like playing ragtime music because it’s fun for the player and the listener both,” John Patrick said. “It’s fun for the player because of the complicated rhythms and the fun melodies. Some of the ragtime pieces require playing all over the piano, so it’s fun for the audience to watch the player, as well as listen to the music.”
In addition to Joplin, some of John Patrick’s other ragtime composers include Jelly Roll Morton, Paul Pratt and James Scott.
Sharon Hutchinson said that a live festival would feature an upright piano and set designed to resemble the early 1900s, with contestants encouraged to dress the part.
“Playing to a virtual crowd sometimes isn’t as exciting as playing live — at the ragtime music festivals, people usually clap and are pretty lively — so we decided to try and make a performance-like atmosphere at home,” she said.
Nic Wilkes, an employee at Richmond County Hospice, designed a set in the music room of the Hutchinson home in keeping with both the period of the pieces and John Patrick’s love of Main Street U.S.A.
They submitted the video on April 30 — a day prior to the May 1 deadline — and were notified on May 15 that he was selected.
“We knew that he was playing some pretty intricate pieces, so we were hoping that they would stand out,” Sharon Hutchinson said.
She added that while most arrangements in music books can vary by skill level, John Patrick was playing from the original sheet music, which can be difficult for smaller hands like his.
The showcase will air on the contest’s YouTube channel Friday at 8 p.m. EST.
John Patrick also received a merit scholarship to attend the two-week Palmetto International Piano Festival this July at Erskine College in Due West, South Carolina.
The following month, all three Hutchinson children will be competing in the Costa Rica Piano Festival, which will be virtual this year.
During the festival, they will also attend virtual workshops which include private and group lessons, improvisation classes, and will learn about Latin American composers.