Dual Duelists Dueling Dazzlingly!
The two duelists take the stage from stage right. The Lower Hangar fills with uproar as the audience materializes their anticipation with a fantastic burst of sound. The duelists take their place on stage at the two white-lit pianos positioned with their backs facing each other. The duelist on the audience’s right strikes a low, growling chord. With that, over 100 people are instantly enraptured.
BCA hosted the annual Dueling Pianos on Jan. 31 featuring dueling pianists Carl Dees and Donny Scott, who played an audience-driven setlist made up entirely of requests. The duelists received full audience participation. For once in this campus’ history, a room was filled with people joyfully singing along to their favorite songs, and even dancing in two intense 80s dance contests
“The second I [came] up there, the amount of requests I had was huge, for one. And the breadth of what we were looking at. I mean we had stuff from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s – on up,” Dees said. Song requests made on little pieces of paper laid on every table were taken up and placed on top of the duelists’ pianos. The crowd of students made so many requests that the duelists had to start playing short versions of the songs. Dees raved about the audience: “You guys – we have no idea what we’re gonna get. We’re always pleasantly surprised when you guys just slam us with a bunch of cool stuff. Very happy.”
Dueling Pianos as genre began during 1890s ragtime-era New Orleans in the piano bar Pat O’Brien’s. The entertainers who played Pat O’Brien’s tweaked the ragtime format to encourage audience participation with song requests, and the lounge would fill with an energy of fun and pure happiness. The genre quickly took off and made its way around the country to become what it is today.
The nature of the performance requires that the duelists memorize a huge repertoire of songs. When Dees started, he had to know at least 500 songs. However, the demographic has changed over the years to include everyone 18 and up. “You literally have to cover the breadth of everything. You need a good thousand songs just to get by.”
Dees and Scott have both dueled for over fifteen years. They are based out of different cities and look forward to whenever their travel plans can come together for a gig. The last time they played together was two years ago, but the way that their charismas meshed on stage made it seem like they had been playing together for a lifetime. The two of them beckoned the attention of everyone in the Lower Hangar, and effortlessly inspired that energy of fun and happiness present in Dueling Pianos from the genre’s inception.
Scott reflected on his and Dee’s performance at Embry-Riddle and his passion for Dueling. “Honestly, honestly, my favorite part [about dueling] is when you look out on a night like tonight, and everyone just has joy on their face… when everyone is just having a joyful good time, my night is golden.”