Ragtime pianist Bob Milne to play at SVAC

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MANCHESTER — Ragtime pianist Bob Milne will be coming to Manchester on Saturday for a rousing performance at the Southern Vermont Arts Center (SVAC.)

Milne has performed at SVAC over the last four years, bringing his iconic energy and unique talent to Manchester annually. For the artist, visiting Vermont continues to be a special occasion.

"My father used to visit, and he would bring us back some maple syrup from Vermont," said Milne. "I always had this longing to go there, but when I was younger I couldn't afford it. I feel so extremely lucky to be able to do so now."

The Michigan-based musician has moved well past his modest beginnings, however, playing across the globe in his long career.

"I've been a professional piano player for a long time, and I was actually a musical ambassador for the U.S. Department of State for years," said Milne, who has performed numerous times in Japan, including the Okinawan Islands and Hokkaido. He has also performed in this capacity for members of the Swiss Parliament at the U.S. Embassy in Bern. "There was a period of time where I was playing 250 performances a year, going all over the world and often having two performances a day," he said.

Milne's role as an ambassador of sorts culminated in his recognition as a "national treasure" by the U.S. Library of Congress, which interviewed the musician and documented his work for future generations in 2004.

"They filmed me for three days," said Milne, noting that he has always had a unique talent. "I hear music in my head, and I train my fingers to go to the notes I hear. Of course you have to do it pretty fast, but for me it was natural. I don't know how to explain it."

That unique disposition for dexterity led neuroscientist Kerstin Bettermann, of Penn State, to study Milne's ability to talk and play complex two-handed rhythms at the same time.

"The did a neurological brain study on me for the last 9 years," said Milne. "Something very normal for me to do is to listen in my head to two different pieces of music at the same time."

This intrigued Bettermann, who discovered that Milne has the unusual ability to mentally "play" up to four symphonies in his head simultaneously.

"For me this is not unusual," said Milne. "For everyone else, apparently, it is."

Despite his worldly and remarkable career, Milne continues to look forward to his visits to the small town of Manchester.

"The people in Manchester had been trying to bring me there for years, and I always look forward to having a great time," said Milne. "I love playing the piano, and being able to share that with people."

Milne, who revels in sharing the history of the pieces he plays with his audience, points out that the performance may also prove educational.

"They're going to have a lot of nice fun, and learn something too," said Milne. "Each performance is fun for me, and coming to a beautiful venue and sharing my music with your people gives me a great sense of gratification. If they've never heard me before, I'd very much love to meet them."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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