Scott Joplin, the Father of Ragtime!

Scott Joplin is an important American composer and the father of Ragtime who wrote music my kids love. His music is energetic and fun to play and you can't listen to it without tapping your toe and wanting to jump up and dance. The music he wrote ranges from intermediate level pieces to more complicated advanced levels and they can really motivate teen boys to want to play the piano. Since they are considered classical music, and a prelude for jazz, they can help kindle a desire in students who are interested in both to learn to play them.

Scott Joplin was born in Texarkana, a city which straddles the Texas and Arkansas border, in 1867 or 1868. His father was a former slave. His mother worked in a white home were he was allowed to play the piano. His talent was noticed by a local music teacher from Germany, Julius Weiss. Weiss taught him classical, European music, including opera and Joplin developed a love and respect for classical music, so much so that he believed that to be a true classical musician he needed to write and produce an Opera.

As a young man Joplin moved to Seldalia, Missouri and from there started the life of a traveling musician. He traveled far and wide, learning his craft as he went. He attended for a time music classes at George R. Smith College in Sedalia. In 1896 he published 2 marches and a waltz. In late 1898 he tried to publish his first two piano rags, but only sold “Original Rags”. He was not happy with the publishing arrangements because he was not listed as the composer.

By 1899, he had contracted the services of a lawyer and together they were able to get a better publishing deal for Joplin's next piece, “Maple Leaf Rag”. The deal ensured that Joplin received 1 cent for each copy that sold and this provided him with a steady income for the rest of his life. “Maple Leaf” slowly gained in popularity, until in 1909 half a million copies had been sold and they continued to sell at that rate for the next 2 decades. Listen to “Maple Leaf Rag” played by my son Jason, age 15.

Some of the more popular pieces Joplin wrote include “Peacherine Rag”, “Heliotrope Rag” and "Pine Apple Rag". He also tried his hand at writing opera. He wrote “A Guest of Honor” which no longer survives. He published an opera in 1911 called “Treemonisha”, though he never saw it produced, it received positive reviews as the most American opera ever composed in the “American Musician and Art Journal”.

Joplin's influence waned with the years, but in the 1970's was revived with the recordings of Joplin's music available on albums for the first time. These were released as classical music instead of jazz making it accessible to a new audience. In 1976, the movie “The Sting” made his music even more popular with “The Entertainer”. Here is “The Entertainer” played by Scott Joplin himself.

If you are interested in more information about Scott Joplin, here is a website with more about his life. If you are interested in his music and will be in the Sedalia, Missouri area the first week of June, they are sponsoring a music festival featuring Joplin's music as they do each year. To learn more see the above link.

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- Dana