Rag-Time Dance

Larry Sue’s Rehearsal Notes
Rag-Time Dance, Scott Joplin arr. Kevin McChesney
It’s a Friday in 1906. The Missouri summer evening is hot and humid, and the bugs are out...
buzz... buzz... But there’s a club down the street, and there’s some incredible music coming out of
the door. You can’t keep from wandering over to satisfy your curiosity.
In a building covered with weathered wooden slats and matching floor, several dozen people are
enjoying their time after work. Most of them are black - “Negroes” back then - because that’s
who lives in the neighborhood. The one white man is John Stark, a publisher who comes into
town now and then. You can tell they’ve been there for a couple of hours already - the
accumulation of glasses on the tables - uncleared by the proprietor because of the utter
fascination with the duel that’s going on in the back of the hall.
A duel? Well, yes. But it’s not to the death... the only weapons are the agile fingers of two young
men at the well-beaten piano. They play their entrancing rhythms at blinding speed, each trying
to outdo the other. The one who places second has no shame to bear, though - he’s come close
enough to the monumental skills of the King of Rag - Scott Joplin.
The contest is over, and two players trade friendly stints at the piano now as the other folks start
to dance. They stomp the floor rhythmically as the music plays on, making the place resonate
into the night as the party continues...
Ragtime music originated in the Midwest in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It
principally was the province of the Black community, and was a predecessor of jazz. The
hallmark of rag was the steady low-high patterns in the bass that combined with the continual
syncopations of the treble. Add to that the chromaticism of the melodies, and you have a recipe
for some scintillating handbell music!
The first big issue to solve is that of getting to all of the notes you’re assigned to play. I’d suggest
that you take a careful look at the music (especially if you’re in the treble) and determine where
you’re going to need help from your neighbors. Then you should contact them and negotiate any
necessary trades, because they’re probably going to need you to help them too!
After we’ve got the black stuff on the page under control, we’ll need to work on “line”. The runs
and rhythms in the melody will have to be smoothed to the normal glassy finish, and then
Free use of these rehearsal notes is granted without charge,
but it would be proper to acknowledge the source!
©2013 Larry Sue
Larry Sue’s Rehearsal Notes
integrated with a steady bass to produce what Mr. Joplin called “that weird and intoxicating
effect that is the intent of the composer.”
One more thing: Tempo notations such as “Not Too Fast”, rag-historically, were put by Joplin
into his scores to remind the musicians of the day that they weren’t to be playing at absolute
breakneck speed (for instance, take Art Tatum and transport him back fifty or sixty years). That
means that we’ll be starting with the numeric tempo of 88 as our starting point, and will try to
take it somewhat higher if the “weird and intoxicating effect” doesn’t materialize. After all,
you’re supposed to enjoy ragtime music, not be able to perform an intellectual analysis of it as
you listen!
Timbre markings: There’s enough to do in this piece! Just play everything with the marking ⊥2 !
Free use of these rehearsal notes is granted without charge,
but it would be proper to acknowledge the source!
©2013 Larry Sue