Renowned ragtime pianist and "four-track mind" Bob Milne to visit campus


Renowned ragtime pianist Bob Milne will be on the Sewanee campus Feb. 12-15. Milne, one of the best ragtime piano players in the world, is an amazing musician who can play multiple complex rhythms simultaneously while carrying on a conversation, lecturing on ragtime music, and cracking jokes. The community is invited to two public events showcasing Milne’s talent.

Milne and Penn State neuroscientist Kerstin Bettermann will discuss Milne’s “four-track mind” at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12, in Convocation Hall. Bettermann, who has studied Milne’s ability for several years, says our brains just aren't wired to use both sides simultaneously as Milne does.

Bob Milne is also considered to be the best ragtime/boogie-woogie pianist in the world. He will give a performance at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, in Guerry Auditorium. The performance is free and the public is welcome.

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.”

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.

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.

Bettermann, a physician and associate professor of neurology at Penn State University’s medical school, believes Milne experiences a type of emotional synesthesia, a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to involuntary experiences in another pathway. Her primary research centers on stroke victims, and the ways people can learn to tap into other areas of their brains. Studying Milne’s gift may help teach stroke victims how to relearn functions they've lost.

In addition to the Friday afternoon talk and Saturday performance, 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.