The weather was cold, but the music was definitely hot Monday night for the first Aiken Composer's Guild concert at USC Aiken.

The program, featuring mostly original works by local composers, ended with “Piano Burning,” a performance-art piece by New Zealand-born composer Annea Lockwood. As part of the performance, a piano, deemed to be irreparable, literally was set on fire, creating a flaming finale.

Dr. Mark Hollingsworth, the dean of the USCA's College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, played “The North Country,” an original composition, on his bagpipes as he led the audience of about 75 people from the Etherredge Center, across campus and over the pedestrian bridge to the Convocation Center.

Piano Burning at USC Aiken

A piano burns as part of a performance of "Piano Burning" on Monday at the first Aiken Composer's Guild concert.

There, the musicians set the piano, sitting in a grassy field, on fire. As the first flames flared up and “smoke-nados” swirled around the spinet, the audience broke into a spontaneous chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.” 

It took about 25 minutes for the flames, which melted the keys and caused the sound board to collapse, to reduce to piano to embers.

Hollingsworth and Dr. Dick Maltz, a distinguished professor emeritus at USCA, first performed “Piano Burning” in 1980 when they were graduate students at the University of North Texas, where Lockwood was in residence.

“That's where Dick and I got acquainted with this kind of performance art, which is kind of avant-garde,” Hollingsworth said. “Lockwood, who lives in New York now, is well know in this genre of music and for doing unusual things. In addition to 'Piano Burning,' she's also done 'Piano Drowning,' where she dropped a piano in the ocean and and 'Piano Garden,' where she buried pianos in her garden in England, and people were invited to come play.”

Jeremy Smith, a senior music major, found the piano for USCA's performance.

“Annea Lockwood states in the instructions to the score that you must use a piano that is no longer playable or serviceable,” Hollingsworth said. “This piano was really beat up badly and was missing some keys and strings. It would have cost more to restore it than the piano was worth.”

Piano Burning at USC Aiken

Burning embers are all that remain of a piano used Monday for a performance of "Piano Burning" at the first Aiken Composer's Guild first concert.

The focus of the Aiken Composer's Guild is “to compose and perform new music,” Hollingsworth said.

Maltz, who retired from USCA last year, organized the guild to continue working with composers and musicians in the community.

The guild's members include USCA professors and students, retired public school music teachers and other local residents.

Monday night's concert featured a piano solo; a piano work accompanied by strings and percussion; a guitar solo; a vocalist; and electronic pieces that included video and lighting effects.

Hollingsworth called the first concert a success, with about 100 people attending the first part of the program.

The guild's next concert will be March 4.

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.

A native of Aiken, Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.