The Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival offers a variety of presentations and performances during its Ragtime University symposia each year at the Liberty Center Association for the Arts and it brought in a national and international audience this year.
The Symposia offered three presentations Thursday morning, including collecting rare sheet music by Alex Hassan and another about the Terra Verde ragtime movement by Tom McDermott.
Hassan’s presentation, entitled “The Allure of the Sheet: How, What and Why we should collect Rare Sheet Music,” was focused on American ragtime pianist, historian, and memorabilia collector Johnny Maddox’s collection, which Hassan has been heavily involved with.
When Maddox’s health started declining Hassan helped go through and sell part of his roughly 225,000-item collection on eBay. According to Hassan, over three years they made roughly $200,000 on the site. One of the most valuable pieces was a piece of rare sheet music of the vocal version of the “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin that went for $3,240.
“This (amount made on the collection) was unheard of in the sheet music market. We practically redefined what could be made with ragtime, black Americana, blues, topical stuff because he had it all…” Hassan said.
Hassan showed various pieces and spoke about what made them valuable. Some of Hassan’s advice on selling pieces was to put catchwords in, even ones that do not pertain to ragtime such as the subject matter of the piece. He also advised looking at price guides, which may not always be accurate but can help with finding a starting price.
One attendee of the presentation was Neville Dickie who lives outside of London and is performing at the Stark Pavilion throughout the festival.
“I started when I was about 7 years old and just developed from there. Started playing not only ragtime but all sorts of stuff. I come here to play ragtime,” he said.
While Dickie does not consider himself a collector, he came to the symposia because he finds it interesting.
“I just perform. These guys (other attendees) are the collectors. You know, they’ve got thousands of copies of stuff I’ve never seen,” he said.
Another attendee was Mike Nichols from Kansas City who has been attending the festival since 1989.
“When I was very small, my parents took me to a friend’s house and they had a player piano and they put on some player rolls and it was ragtime and I just fell in love with that sound…” Nichols said.
“I knew about the Scott Joplin Festival years before I started coming. I think I started coming in about ‘89 and I don’t think I’ve missed one since,” he continued.
Nichols said the main reason he comes to the festival is the symposia.
“I’m kind of probably an odd duck. I love the symposia. I feel I learn so much every year. I don't go to as many of the concerts because I have so much of that on CD already…” Nichols said. “It’s the lectures which you can’t get anywhere else except for right here so that’s why I come.”
McDermott’s presentation, “What of Terra Verde,” focused on showing examples of Terra Verde music including audio examples and performances by himself and Frank French of Colorado. Terra Verde music is a fairly new style of piano music which is often rooted in ragtime and Latin American music but can include other types.
“It’s all over the map to me…” McDermott said of the style. “David would insist that there is an element of interiority or inwardness, a neo-romanticism to it that dominates.”
“It’s a hybrid of Latin music and ragtime,” added MC and performer Bill Edwards of Colorado. “There’s syncopation, there’s regularity in the left hand.”
Arlo Lusby of Sacramento, California, and Danny Matson of Madison, Wisconsin, attended the presentation and have both been coming to the festival for roughly 10 years.
“You get to re-associate with all of your wonderful musical friends and of course see the live presentations. It’s just a wonderful get together,” Lusby said. “The hotel is a convenient meeting place and the town itself is unique.”
Matson and Lusby said they enjoyed learning about other aspects of ragtime during the symposia.
“It’s time to actually get down to the nitty-gritty, the specifics behind things,” Lusby said. “You get a lot of interesting information, particularly right here with this different aspect of ragtime.”
The festival will offer five more Ragtime University symposia, all located at the Liberty Center, at 9, 10 and 11 a.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday. A documentary film on pianos and pianists, “All the Keys and then Some,” will be shown at 10 a.m. Saturday.