“Bob Milne and His Ragtime Capers”


Renowned ragtime pianist Bob Milne will give a performance at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, in Guerry Auditorium. Milne is one of the best ragtime piano players in the world, and an amazing musician who can play multiple complex rhythms simultaneously while carrying on a conversation, lecturing on ragtime music, and cracking jokes. The performance is free and the public is welcome.

Penn State neuroscientist Kerstin Bettermann, who has studied Milne’s ability for several years, says our brains just aren't wired to do that. In addition to his unique ability to simultaneously use both sides of his brain, Bob Milne is considered to be the best ragtime/boogie-woogie pianist in the world. He was filmed and documented for future generations in 2004 during three days of interviews at the Library of Congress, and was declared a “national treasure” at the conclusion.

Since childhood, Milne has had the prodigy-like ability to hear any musical score and replicate it on the keys. Once Milne hears a song, he remembers every note, whether it's a ragtime song or a Beethoven symphony. “I’ve never practiced piano a day in my life,” he says. “I always thought everyone could just play like this.”

Milne can play in three different time signatures at once—3/4, 4/4, and 5/4 times, playing one on his left hand, another with the thumb of his right hand, and the last with the rest of his right hand. MRIs have shown that Milne can hear four distinct orchestral symphonies in his mind at once. Neurologists studying Milne’s gift are learning the ways people can tap into other areas of their brains and how stroke victims may relearn functions they've lost.

Milne will be at Sewanee for a few days. In addition to the Saturday performance, he and Bettermann will give a talk and demonstration Friday afternoon, and Milne will join members of the campus community for an “Evening at Chen” on Monday, visit classes, and meet with students and faculty in the Neuroscience, Psychology, and Music Departments.

Milne's visit is sponsored jointly by the University Lectures Committee, the Music, Psychology, and Neuroscience Departments, and the Office of the Vice-Chancellor.

Check Milne out on Radiolab:


Guerry Auditorium