Saturday, April 1, 2017

Spotlight on Scott Joplin


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One Hundred years ago, today, Scott Joplin passed away.  In honor of that, I want to acknowledge him and his music.  His music brings us much joy when we hear it, even if we don't know that it is his.  I don't feel that Scott Joplin is exactly a household name, even though many people have heard of him by now.  People may hear one of his classic piano rags, but not be able to put a name to a tune that rings so familiar to them.  Or, maybe some people hear a tune they might attribute to him, but is in fact not one of his classic piano rags.  That might be because like Marian Klamkin stated in her book, Old Sheet Music: A Pictorial History, "The beat as written by Joplin and his contemporaries would influence all popular American music that was written after it."

Scott Joplin was born in 1868 in Texarkana, Texas.  He spent most of his life in the Midwest visiting St. Louis and Chicago, before following his publisher, John Stark, to New York City.  It was in Sedalia, Missouri though (1899) that Stark published Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag, which was a great success (and still is)!  Joplin wrote the tune in 1897, and it is named after the Maple Leaf Club where he played music at the time.  It was his first published music that gave him the royalties he deserved, and much more followed after that.  He and Stark had a long friendship (not always happy), but I think they ended on good terms ultimately.

Scott Joplin was well known in his day.  But after he died, I guess the waves of novelty music and Tin Pan Alley kind of washed him away.  There was a bit of a revival in the 50's of the classic piano rag, but for you and I, the really big thing that brought it back into our sphere was the movie, 'The Sting,' starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman.  This was back in the 1970's.  Marvin Hamlisch did the music, and decided to use tunes by Scott Joplin.  The music wasn't exactly time period specific, but it worked quite well as a backdrop for the scenes of 1930's Chicago.

It worked so well that it catapulted Joplin's "The Entertainer" into posterity forever.  Even today, every piano student wants to learn it!  They may not have a clue who wrote it, but they've heard it somewhere (or at least the first 6 notes), and by jove, they are going to learn it whether their piano teacher wants them to or not!

Scott Joplin died in New York City April 1st, 1917.  He is buried in St. Michael's Cemetery, which isn't far from the Steinway factory.  He has more fans than ever, and I look forward to continuing to learn his music, and teaching it to others.  It is such a joy not only to listen to, but to play as well.  It feels good to the ears and soul, and if feels good to the fingers too! 

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