My Older Legacy Literary Blog

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ragtime kept me from quitting Piano when I grew up

I was forced to take piano lessons as a kid although I did not care at the time for Classical piano pieces.  All I really wanted to do was play sports and live in a Ray Bradbury world of imagination through books and movies. 

 I used to go down the street to Mrs. Burhans for an hour a week to take a lesson.  She would ask me if I had practised.  I would stammer: ”Umm,...yes.”  And then she would ask me  to play the same Lizst Hungarian Rhapsody (an easier part of it) as  she did the six previous weeks, and she knew I had not practised and she would chew me out for it.  Finally, I was about to quit taking lessons.  

.Then, that year, the movie ”The Sting” came out.  ”The Entertainer” was a big hit on the radio.  I went down to the music store and found this large book of Ragtime sheet music by Scott Joplin who died around World War I.  I took it home and the music seemed difficult.  But a friend of mine and I learned ”The Maple Leaf Rag.”  It was complex for me at the time.  I proceeded to learn and memorize every piece in the book. 

 .I found more Ragtime music by other composers like James Scott, Arthur Marshall, Tom Turpin, Joseph Lamb, James Johnson.  My interest in the piano was saved by Ragtime.  I had ended up learning hundreds of Ragtime pieces.

  I discovered George Gershwin’s ”Rhapsody in Blue.”  I memorized that at age 16. 

 In college, I dropped out of Engineering to go to music school.  I memorized the piano version of American In Paris, Chopin preludes and etudes, Beethoven sonatas, Schubert sonatas, Rachmaninoff short pieces, Debussy preludes, Bach preludes and fugues, Gershwin’s Concerto in F, and then Rachmaninoff’s pieces and his Piano Concerto # 2 and half of his Piano COncerto # 3. 

 But I will always remember that I would have given up piano years before that, if I had not discovered Ragtime:. 

Ragtime (alternately spelled Rag-time) is an American musical genre which enjoyed its peak popularity between 1897 and 1918. Ragtime was the first truly American musical genre, predating jazz[1]. It began as dance music in the Red-light district of American cities such as St. Louis and New Orleans years before being published as popular sheet music for piano[2][3] . It was a modification of the march made popular by John Philip Sousa, with additional Polyrhythms coming from African music. [4]. The Ragtime composer Scott Joplin became famous through the publication in 1899 of the Maple Leaf Rag, although he was forgotten by the 1970s.[5][6]. For at least 12 years after its publication, the Maple Leaf Rag heavily influenced subsequent Ragtime composers with its melody lines, harmonic progressions or metric patterns.[7].Ragtime fell out of favor as Jazz claimed the public’s imagination after 1917, but there have been numerous revivals since as the music has been re-discovered. First in the early 1940s many jazz bands began to include ragtime in their repertoire and put out ragtime recordings on 78 RPM records. A more significant revival occurred in the 1950s as a wider variety of ragtime styles of the past were made available on records, and new rags were composed, published, and recorded. In 1971 Joshua Rifkin brought out a compilation of Scott Joplin’s work which was nominated for a Grammy[8], and in 1973, the motion picture The Sting brought ragtime to a wide audience with its soundtrack of Joplin tunes. Subsequently the film’s rendering of Joplin’s 1902 rag The Entertainer was a top 40 hit in 1974..Ragtime has been seen by some critics as an important influence on American music in the 20th Century.[5] Ragtime (with Joplin’s work in the forefront of the movement) has been compared to an American equivalent of minuets by Mozart, mazurkas by Chopin or waltzes by Brahms.[9] Ragtime influenced Classical composers including Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, and Brahms.[10].  ; 

Scott Joplin died in a mental institution in New York, forgotten at the end of World War I; James Scott died in the 30’s totally forgotten.  Louis Chauvin died young as a wastrel creole genius.  Tony Jackson died in New Orlean’s Storyville. 

 Eubie Blake, a frequent guest on the Tonight Show, who composed a lot of ragtime, had met Scott Joplin in a music shop maybe around 1910 or so.  He saw this guy with a bandaged propped up foot.  He introduced himself and found out he was talking to Scott Joplin.  Not once did the host of the Tonight Show ask him about that all those years Eubie Blake appeared on the show.  .

Jelly Roll Morton, who was born in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans at a house that now has an historical marker on it (I am assuming it is still there (the house) but there is a chance it disappeared after Hurricane Katrina), he could not sight-read music.  They asked him to play something and put Scott Joplin’s ”Original Rag” in front of him.  He played it of course because he had it memorized by heart, including his own embellishments, and pretended to sight-read the music.  He got the job. 

 .In the late 30’s, Jelly Roll walked into the Libary of Congress, nearly on his deathbed, and they began recording an oral history of his entire life and his piano playing as well, for the next 8 days or so.  He talked and played the piano for them.  It is all recorded somewhere at the Library of Congress. 

 .Dr. Robert Weatherly, a professor of mine at Music School who was widely known as the greatest Trumpet player in the world in the 1940s under the baton of Vladimir Golschman and the St. Louis Symphony - his father played in John Phillip Souza’s band.  

At the World’s Fair of 1904 in St. Louis, Scott Joplin played on a single piano in a tent right down from Souza’s full Band and was totally drowned out by them as he tried to play his pieces..

In music school I used to play 14 hours a day locked in a practise room, now I barely play at all.  

And Science Fiction, Horror, and Literature in general were of main interest for me in my life and later of creating a body of work.  But I am glad I went the music route before I started writing novels.

No comments:

Post a Comment