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News at Fort Lewis College

Carnegie Hall welcomes FLC Music student and ragtime piano world champion

Swanson plays a little ragtime in Fort Lewis College's Roshong Recital Hall.

In 2002, when Adam Swanson was 10 years old, he first heard ragtime music. “We bought my grandparents an internet system, and I heard ragtime as the background music,” laughs Swanson. “I liked it so much I started asking my mom to play it, because she played a little piano. Before long I started learning on my own.”

In February -- ten years later -- Swanson will play at Carnegie Hall in New York City with legendary vocalist Michael Feinstein.

Swanson, a sophomore Music major from Shenandoah, Iowa, has taken the world of ragtime by storm, winning the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest as a junior in 2003, 2004 and 2006; and an adult from 2008 to 2010. He has also released several CDs, and each year plays concerts and festivals worldwide.

In October, he and Music professor Dr. Lisa Campi performed “Rach-n-Rag,” a concert during which Campi played classical piano and Swanson would play a ragtime reply. Their dueling-piano show raised nearly $3,000 for the Fort Lewis Music program.

"Fort Lewis College has a very strong music program or I wouldn’t have gone here," says Swanson, who chose FLC over the New England Conservatory. "Having this be a small program has been beneficial. I’ve never been formally trained in music theory, so it's interesting to learn about the music world. I go to recitals all the time, and they have a lot of concerts at the Community Concert Hall. I have seen some great performances there."

So how did this ragtime champion wind up at Fort Lewis College? The story begins in 2004, when he was 12 years old. “I discovered a ragtime pianist named Johnny Maddox,” he says. “I was intrigued by his story and career, so I wanted to meet him.” But at the age of 77 -- now 84 -- Maddox had hung up his ivories the year Swanson was born. The only way to see the King of Ragtime perform was during his annual four-week stint at the Diamond Belle Saloon, in Durango’s Strater Hotel.

Swanson introduces and plays his own arrangement of Scott Joplin's
Maple Leaf Rag.


Swanson convinced his parents to take a trip to Durango that fall, where he didn’t just get to see Maddox perform — he got to play for him. “We went to watch him every night we were in town, and one night when he was on a break I got up and started playing the 'Maple Leaf Rag,'” he says. “Johnny’s head turned around so fast I thought it might fall off!”

From 2004 to 2010, Swanson and his parents came to Durango every year to see Maddox play. Since 2006, Swanson has joined Maddox playing at the Belle for two weeks each summer. Despite their 65-year age difference, the pair became friends. “Now he’s my mentor and idol, and like a grandfather to me,” says Swanson.

And then he couldn’t help falling in love with Durango, too. “Sometimes I feel like I started playing at the Belle that summer and never left,” he says.

"There’s a whole group of people who enjoy ragtime music and go around the world to find it," he says. "Luckily for me, I can surround myself with people like that in Durango. This is a great place to live. There are a lot of talented musicians here who I’m becoming friends with. It feels like home.”

Learn more about the Music Department at Fort Lewis College.

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