I am the Lord of Ragtime.
Nay, nay, keep your oaths of fealty for later. There will be ample time for groveling, sniveling, and genuflecting in the months to come (although practice does make perfect).
For right now, I ask only that you bask, lizard-like, in the glory that is moi, because after 16 years of playing the piano, I finally have a trophy worthy of Mordor. And not just any trophy: the World Old-time Piano Playing Championship trophy.
Oh yeah, baby. Drink it in.
Clearly, I’ve been struggling to contain the size of my rapidly inflated ego. You would, too, if you were crowned the “world champion” of something. Like all artists, however, I have to hold two truths as self-evident:
- I am the most inspired creation to have ever walked the planet Earth.
- I am a flaccid sack of nothing.
The truth, hopefully, is somewhere solidly in between, but being a “world” champion of something does feel pretty good. It feels especially good because the last two times I competed in this competition, I came in fourth place, just somewhere between “relative obscurity” and “Martin who?” Now my name will forever after be emblazoned in brass on a honkin’-big trophy alongside some of my musical heroes – Brian Holland, Mimi Blais – and I can sleep easier in the knowledge that I finally outfoxed my self-doubts and played as if I had nothing to prove.
Even better, I’m the first contestant in the history of the contest to win the composition and performance contests in the same weekend, hence why I’m the “lord” of ragtime and not the “dark prince” of ragtime (although I do anxiously await my fall to the Dark Side and the eventual rescue of my soul by my blonde-haired one-handed son). And I won against valiant competition, including former champions and other deserving parties, which makes the victory all the sweeter.
As lovely as it is to have won, however, and as fun as it is to pretend I’m the “lord” of anything, when I placed fourth in 2007 and 2010, I had to tell myself that competitions were just games, and the victor was the one who had best played the game. It wasn’t an accurate measure of musicality, success, or potential, and so to see this victory as anything other than an acknowledgment that I played the game well this year is disingenuous.
If anything, winning has made me anxious to get better.
Still, I’m not above appreciating some sweet, delicious external validation, and I do secretly hope this victory will open up some opportunities to reach new audiences with my music. And let’s be honest: being the Lord of Ragtime is kind of like being the Lord of Fedora-Wearers. It doesn’t exactly come with, you know, the ability to shoot lightning-bolts out of your fingers.