Wednesday saw the kick-off of the 2014 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival with entertainers burning up the keys in both free and paid venues, highlighting youthful entertainers and also preserving memories of two fellow ragtime aficionados who died in the last year.
Missing this year from the festivities are Trebor Tichenor, of St. Louis, and Sedalia’s own Thom Fuller.
“There’s a book called ‘They All Played Ragtime,’ that is the bible of ragtime, Trebor wrote it,” said Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation Artistic Director Dave Majchrzak, of St. Louis. “Trebor is one of the leading ragtime historians … Trebor is god — he’s a legend — seriously. Trebor is very, very special.”
Tichenor died this spring and will be missed greatly in the ragtime circles, as well as Fuller who died Feb. 26, who spent years making sure the sound systems were up to par for the festival.
“Thom, it was 20 years he was doing sound,” Majchrzak said. “He will be missed dramatically. Thom was able to make us sound better than most of us are. He was very good.”
A memorial gathering at Dukes and Boots was planned for Wednesday evening for entertainers and the public alike.
And although it may seem there has developed a younger set of ragtime entertainers at the festival, creating a revival of the genre, Majchrzak, disagrees.
“I don’t know that it ever really died, to tell you the truth,” he said in between introducing performers at the Stauffacher Building at State Fair Community College. “We’ve never had a problem with finding young players … but the problem is not the players, the problem is finding people to come listen to it. That’s where the problem is.”
Majchrzak said there is a “plethora” of young people playing the music.
“And there are some new ones that I was being told about today,” he added. “So they’re out there, there’s just no fans.”
He said he would like to reach the audiences in the 20 and 30 age bracket, but said he hasn’t found the key that would unlock that age group’s interest in ragtime music.
“We are all active in our local ragtime societies, and we’ll draw kids because we have competitions, but most of them only use it to put on their resume,” he said. “They don’t come back and they don’t embrace the music like these young men do. That may just be the state of young culture, I don’t know.”
Majchrzak listed several advantages the young ragtime players have at present versus the past.
“One, when most of us were growing up there would be maybe one or two people who would mentor us,” he said. “But we all cultivate these kids. We all mentor, they have access to YouTube, they have access to the Internet, they have CDs. All this music is in print, we’ve got all the stuff, so they can come to us, and they do. And now we are using them to do the same thing.”
He said both Max Keenlyside and Adam Swanson, both in their 20s, have one of the largest sheet music collections in the world. The younger ragtime generation is now stepping up to be mentors to those younger than themselves.
“They have so many advantages,” he added.
Majchrzak said he’d never heard of James P. Johnson, the father of stride music, which came into being around 1915 on the heals of ragtime and eventually morphed into other musical styles. He cited the fast paced information age as benefiting the young set in learning much more and much faster than their mentors before them.
“These kids have heard of him ever since they have been 6-years-old,” he said. “They can hear all kinds of things that we didn’t have the luxury of hearing.”
Swanson, 22, who has been attending college in Durango, Colo., performed during the free venue at the Stauffacher and also in the 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. paid venue on Wednesday.
“I heard the ‘Maple Leaf Rag,’ which was the one written here in Sedalia, on the Internet when I was 10-years-old,” Swanson said Wednesday. “I’d never played the piano before, but my mother (Roma King) sort of taught me that piece. She taught me the ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ and it has changed my life.”
He came to Sedalia, at age 12, to play at the festival for the first time.
“This is about the 10th year in a row that I have played here,” he added. “It’s my favorite part of the year.”
Swanson, who plays all over the country, just graduated with a degree in music and plans to attend the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Md., to work on a master’s degree in music history.
“This festival has changed my life,” he said. “As it has many other people, I’m sure. I’ve had a lot of older musicians that kind of taught me along the way — on the job training.”
He said the first year he came to the festival he met the late John Arpin, of Toronto, Ontario.
“He was just one of the most phenomenal pianists that ever lived,” Swanson said.
Swanson also said Majchrzak and Johnny Maddox were great mentors to him.
Performer and composer Keenlyside echoed Majchrzak’s sentiments that ragtime isn’t just for an older generation, but noted there are not many young faces in the audience.
“It’s phenomenal for us as youth, because you have a whole network of performers,” he said. “There is a large portion of people under 30-years-old in this music. There are more younger performers and composers than there are older performers and composers. There is actually a lot more people getting into the performance than there are the audience.”
He said he is hoping to draw a younger audience.
“You kind of have to meet people halfway,” he added. “A lot of the younger performers are starting to play pop songs from contemporary culture in ragtime style and doing various things to bring in a younger demographic.”
Keenlyside performed in the paid 2 p.m. performance in the Stauffacher Theater at SFCC, and told the audience his first number was composed in memory of Tichenor, titled “The One for Trebor.”
Also playing this year is 13-year-old Daniel Souvigny, of Hampshire, Ill., who has been called a child prodigy by many. Souvigny played in the lobby of the Stauffacher Center and also opened the paid performance at 2 p.m. in the theater.
He was introduced by Majchrzak and entered sweeping the floor with a large broom pretending to be a janitor. He delighted the audience by donning a tiger stripped vest for his second piece, playing the “Tiger Rag.” After his last performance he grabbed the broom, sweeping the floor as he exited.
During this year’s festival Majchrzak said he would like for the local public to attend performances and experience the music.
“Come, listen and experience,” he said. “If you’ve never heard ragtime, you can’t say you don’t like it. Come listen to it and it’s free!”