The Dublin International Piano Festival and Summer Academy is in its fourth year this July. The brainchild of Archie Chen and Rhona Gouldson the festival is primarily a classical one. So, you may ask why is it appearing on our radar? Well to add a little flavor to this year’s event Archie Chen has invited Ethan Uslan the world-renowned Old time music performer, that’s Ragtime to you and me. Ethan is based in North Carolina where he lives with his wife and children.
We had a Skype call recently (I love Skype) and we talked about a few things. Having trained as a classical pianist he completed his formal music education in 2001 and Ethan went and got a day job like everybody else. Having always had a love for Old Time music (pre 1940) he made the bold decision in 2007 to take up music full time. Now, after four recording projects later and a diary cluttered with national and international concert dates he’s not regretting the move for one moment. “It’s great to do something you love while still being able to feed the family,” says Ethan.
“Primarily my music projects are solo affairs, I like to practice and when I do I like to get the full sound, if you perform in an ensemble you have to organise other musicians to rehearse with”. Ethan does not see himself as a composer but rather as a performer. Of course Ragtime still leaves room for him to improvise and make his own arrangements of the music. Ethan adds that in the older Ragtime music of Scott Joplin for example there is not the same need to “go off the page”. However when it comes to New Orleans or Harlem Stride he will play a round with it a bit more.
Ethan tells me that he never plays straight ahead jazz, cool Jazz, modern Jazz etc. “ You can’t play everything, to play a style of jazz you have to love it, later styles lend themselves to ensembles and away from his preference to play solo.
I asked Ethan what an Irish audience could expect from his Dublin performance? “ I tend to play a couple of tunes from each style of Old Time music. A bit of Ragtime, a bit of New Orleans, maybe some jazz versions of Irish tunes (“But no When Irish Eyes are Smiling, I promise you”), Phew so we are safe on that one. I put it to Ethan that there seemed to be a comically element to his performances. “ Old Time music has a sense of humour, that’s one of the things I like about playing this music, the music comes from a perspective that it was written to entertain” He likes to have fun with the music but says it doesn’t get silly. One thing he feels is important is that each piece be given a good introduction. It’s part of the overall show. Ethan prides himself on engaging with the audience between the songs.
Ethan was invited to take part in the Piano Festival by he old friend Archie Chen. “Archie knew me before I had started devoting myself to Old Time music. We lost touch for a number of years but then found each other again on Facebook. We tried to organise a performance by me at last years Festival but we couldn’t coordinate our schedules. This year we made sure I would be coming to Dublin.”
Ethan will be performing in The Hugh Lane Gallery on Saturday 30th July at 1pm. The performance space of the gallery is wonderful. The rules of the Hugh Lane gallery do not permit an admission fee but a donations system is in place and I think it is reasonable to suggest a donation of €10-€15 for this exciting event. A pre-paid “donation” can also be made on Eventbrite that will allow for a reserved seat for the concert (Recommended!)