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By Laurie Borst



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By Laurie Borst

On the morning of May 25, fourth and fifth graders at St. Rose School learned about Scott Joplin and ragtime through the Meet the Musician program. Dennis Kobray, who lives in New Jersey, has spent the last 25 years impersonating famous musicians.

A talented pianist in his own right, Mr Kobray takes on the persona of a variety of musicians to teach students about them and the times in which they lived. He has performed as J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Gershwin, and a friend of Scott Joplin. His presentation at St Rose was as a friend of Scott Joplin.

Mr Kobray introduced ragtime as feel-good music, discussing cascades, where notes rush down the scales, comparing them to mountain streams. He demonstrated cascades on the keyboard. That was followed by a short piece to introduce the sound of ragtime to the students. Immediately, children were bopping in their seats.

As a friend of Scott Joplin, Mr Kobray told a short biography of the “King of Ragtime.” Born in Texarkana in 1868, Joplin grew up during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War. Segregation replaced the failed Reconstruction policy and Joplin was keenly aware of the prejudice he faced.

Joplin loved the sound of the piano that he hear in church on Sunday mornings. When services ended, he would go to the piano and play the tunes he heard in his head like “Oh Susannah” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” His parents realized the importance of practicing music, and by working extra jobs, saved up to buy young Scott a used piano.

Joplin began to experiment with the music he heard. He went to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. There he heard the innovative sounds of Chicago musicians. Intrigued by what he heard, he took elements of gospel, blues, and music of the concert halls — especially Beethoven whom he admired — and combined them with the syncopated beat of African music.

Music up to this time was based on the simple cadence of the heart. These new rhythms emphasized off beats, produced unexpected accents. People called this “raggedy music” or “ragged time,” which eventually became rag time. It was not accepted in many circles and was relegated to bars and saloons. It was not played in fancy concert halls.

When Joplin died in 1917, it seemed for a time that ragtime died with him. The Roaring Twenties saw jazz supplant previous genres of music in the public’s heart. Big Bands followed in the 1930s and 40s, followed by rock ‘n’ roll with Elvis and the Beatles, among others. Then, in 1973, the movie The Sting featured many of Joplin’s works, including instantly recognizable “The Entertainer.”

Today, rag time music can be heard in commercials, at the mall, and attracting children to ice cream vendors in the summer months. Mr Kobray played several familiar pieces including “The Pineapple Rag,” “The Entertainer,” “The Gladiolus Rag,” and “The Maple Leaf Rag” throughout this informative and entertaining presentation.

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