Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Hartford Courant: Ragtime Expert Rick Benjamin Enchants Historical Society Members [With Music of Scott Joplin, March 11, 2016]

Scott Joplin (c.1867-1917) is profiled at AfriClassical.com, which features a Bibliography and comprehensive Works List by Dr. Dominique-René de Lerma, http://www.CasaMusicaledeLerma.com.

March 21, 2016

By Denise Coffey, Staff Writer

If there was ever a perfect match for a speaker and an audience, it was when Rick Benjamin spoke to the Canterbury Historical Society at their March 11 meeting.
The independent scholar and historian, who is the founder and director of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, was in his element talking with people who love all things historical.

For people in the know, Benjamin is a force in the musical world. He and his orchestra celebrate ragtime music – those scores that were popular from 1870 to 1920.
"That was where America's music began," Benjamin said. "It was a time when the country was beginning to express itself in sound."

It was also when the country's music industry started. There were approximately 21,000 silent movie theaters in the United States by 1916. All of them employed an orchestra. In large cities, those orchestras numbered 50 or more. New York City had a 110-member orchestra that performed three times a day, for seven days a week.
Benjamin comes from a musical family. He was so talented that he received a scholarship to the Julliard School in New York City to study the tuba. Unfortunately, he broke his jaw that first semester.
Unable to play his tuba, he started work on an independent study about the beginning of the Victor Talking Machine Company. One thing led to another until he found himself in New Jersey, picking through a dumpster where a demolition company was throwing away old scores from Victor's orchestral library. One of the first scores he picked up was a handwritten Scott Joplin manuscript.
That serendipitous finding put him on a path that's taken him to 48 states, seven countries, and made the PRO a standard bearer for ragtime. It didn't help him graduate from Julliard. That's because before that first year was over, he and some friends organized a ragtime band and came to the attention of Thomas Frost. Frost was the co-director of CBS Masterworks, and a Grammy Award winning classical producer. He wanted the band to start production immediately.
"None of this was planned," Benjamin said.
Since 1988, the PRO has produced 17 CDs and two DVDs. In 1989, the Walt Disney Company chose the PRO's recordings for its theme music on Main Street, USA. The orchestra was named a US Ambassador of Goodwill at the 1992 World's Universal Exposition in Spain.
The music has engendered a loyal following, and it has shone a spotlight on the development of ragtime, a uniquely American gift to the music world.
Benjamin and his orchestra have expanded appreciation for the musical form while adding to historians' knowledge of the historical forces that shaped it. Ragtime developed in the Midwest with an intermingling of sounds and rhythms from Africa and marching music from old Europe. Benjamin described it as "accents in weird places set against a steady beat."
Benjamin has been thorough in his historical scholarship. More than 20,000 compositions are in the PRO library. More than 10,000 scores that haven't been catalogued are in storage. He'd like to digitize the work so it can be preserved for the future.
His work has also led to a better appreciation of Joplin's musical talent and contribution. Joplin was a classically trained musician who composed two operas, a ballet, symphony, and piano concerto, but he is known primarily for ragtime.


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Comment by email:
Thanks Bill! That's very kind.  Yours, R  Rick Benjamin

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