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Piano Wars at Homan Hall Performing Arts Center in Marquand battled on in the third round Aug. 24.

Jimmy Gilliam took first place and will join round one winner Cara Robbs and round two winner Chuck Moore in the finals, Sept. 27.

Due to an illness on a previous night, round three gave the audience a battle between four competitors instead of the scheduled three. Jesse Mae Boyd, Issac Hallock, Stephen Hente and Gilliam took the stage one at a time performing in five categories/genres of music.

Each competitor was required to select and play a piece in the categories of classical, show tunes, religious or spiritual, Disney and pop/rock with the option to pass on one of the rounds.

Judges Renee Kurtz, Lucas Vetter, Ken Jones and Lelia Jones had the difficult task of choosing the winner. Kurtz is a semi-retired music and piano teacher as well as a competitor from round two. Tucker is a professional pianist in the St. Louis area and a native of Marquand. Vetter is the music teacher at Marquand-Zion and a member of the Columbia University Symphony. Lastly, the Jones are both retired music teachers from the St. Louis area who have now made Marquand their home.

The four competitors entertained and amazed the crowd as they played tunes by Hank Williams, Journey, Shania Twain and more.

Boyd's performance of "When you wish upon a star" was dedicated to her great-grandbabies and she said she played the tune softly as if she was playing them a lullaby. 

Hallock was taken out of his comfort zone with his rendition of "I feel like a woman" as he brought flair to the piece mouthing the words and eventually getting the crowd to join in. 

Hente also had the room singing as he played the Disney classic "Part of Your World" from the Little Mermaid. 

"Round three of competition was nothing less than incredible," Piano Wars Emcee Denny Ward said. "As with any competition, each contestant has certain strengths and weaknesses. With piano, the strength lies in the music you enjoy most in life, what inspires you to play and how that genre connects to other genres in likeness."

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Ward said the four contestants were well-rounded and proficient in each of the genres, yet had some hesitation with at least one of the five genres selected for the season.

"This is what makes the competition interesting for the judges and audience as well as challenging for the contestants," Ward said. 

Each contestant may have had a category they preferred but Gilliam was the only one to play in all five of the categories and choosing not to pass in any of the rounds. His love for the piano was evident as he wanted to take every moment he could tickling the ivories.

Gilliam gave the crowd quite the performance walking away with several scores of perfect tens from both the panel of judges and the audience. As he would approach the piano there was one obvious difference between himself and his competitors, he did not carry sheet music with him.

"Folks tell me that me and the piano become one and that's the reason it flows the way it does," Gilliam said. "It's just having it ministered and having it to uplift others. I like to have them feel the music."

Gilliam, a SMTS driver in Washington County, said he has been playing since he was 9 years old and as a young boy that was all he wanted to do. He just wanted to keep playing and playing.

"The finale will be robust and very tightly scored in my opinion," Ward said. "The three finalists all have excellent skills, good stage presence and have won not only the ear, but the heart of the audience."

The finale of Piano Wars 2019 will be Sept. 27 at Homan Hall with doors opening at 6 p.m., a meal by Brewen Catering at 6:30 p.m. and the competition starting at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $30 and include both the show and the meal. 

Reservations can be made by calling 573-783-5438 or 573-783-3282. Programming is supported in part by the Mineral Area Council on the Arts and Mineral Area College.

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Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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