Many of the performers at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival earn a living as paid entertainers.
Music is not only their passion, it is their livelihood.
Like many of the performers, Frank LiVolsi, of Rhode Island, is also passionate about the playing and composing for the piano, but LiVolsi makes his living through another passion: mechanical engineering.
“I am so very fortunate that I have the opportunity to pursue both of my passions,” LiVolsi said after his performance Friday morning at the Maple Leaf Park. “I don’t know if I have the stamina to be a full-time musician but my work provides the money and vacation time to allow me to perform.”
LiVolsi, 26, received his master’s degree in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics two years ago from the University of Rhode Island. He is employed by the federal government.
“There are a number of us who play who come from technical backgrounds,” LiVolsi said. “Even as a young man I was always drawn to engineering.
“I was fascinated with taking stuff apart only to try to put it back together again,” he added. “I think that’s why I like ragtime — it is very structured and there is a great deal of repetition to the music.”
LiVolsi added that there is a synergy and energy to the genre that he finds fascinating.
“I have studied and taken piano lessons since I was a young boy,” LiVolsi said. “It wasn’t until I started watching YouTube videos and began to learn and play ragtime that I found a focus and a clearer direction in my playing.
“Because I was home-schooled from 7 until I entered college, I found I had a lot of time to practice,” he added. “It was ragtime though that helped make me more dedicated to my practice and writing.”
LiVolsi has composed more than 15 works and commented that his pieces tend to be introspective and reflective.
“I don’t know if I can tell you where the inspiration for my writing comes from but I have been influenced a great deal by George Winston and artists like Jim Brickman,” LiVolsi said. “I really love easy listening music but I think I respect the classical masters the most.
“With my composing it can take years for me to complete a piece and often it depends on my mood,” he added. “I don’t want to rush something simply for the sake of trying to get it out on paper.”
Having the opportunity to spend time at Festivals such as Joplin is incredibly rewarding to LiVolsi.
“I was up until 2 this morning talking shop about cord progression in the ‘rags’ with some of my friends who are performers here,” LiVolsi said. “It’s very humbling to me to be accepted by these incredible men and women.
“They are special and something else and it is very meaningful to be a part of such a supportive and welcoming group of people,” he added. “I still can’t believe that I have the opportunity to play with people who I idolize.”
LiVolsi, who has been invited to perform at festivals across the United States this year including the West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento, California, to the Cape Cod Festival, first came to Sedalia and the Joplin Festival in 2001.
“I have participated in a number of events across the country in the past few years,” LiVolsi said. “I am honored to be a part of them but they all don’t have the feel of the Joplin Festival. Ninety-five percent of the reason I want to keep coming back to Sedalia is that I can hang out with people who have become like family to me.
“A few years ago one of the performers told me your real family is the one you don’t get to choose, but this family of performers we choose to be a part of,” he added. “I am honored to be a part of this family and I know I’ll be back at the Joplin Festival in some capacity next year, either as a musician or an audience member. I’m looking forward to returning to my family at the festival.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.