Category Archives: 1900s

Ragtime begins to change our music

Ragtime became central to the development of jazz in both America and Britain around the turn of the century.  The term ‘ragtime’ comes from the syncopated or ‘ragged’ rhythm and had its origins in the African-American communities in cities such as St. Louis. One of the first pioneers and composers of ragtime was Ernest Hogan. He was the first composer to have his ragtime pieces (or “rags”) published as sheet music, beginning with the song “LA Pas Ma LA” published in 1895.  More important, though, could be the fact that he has been credited for coining the term ragtime.  Ben Harney, another Kentucky native, has often been credited for introducing the music to the mainstream public. His first ragtime composition, “You’ve Been a Good Old Wagon but You Done Broke Down”, helped popularize the style. However – the composition was published in 1895, a few months after Ernest Hogan.

Nun-the-less – it is neither of these that keep Ragtime in our memory.  That composer is Scott Joplin who became famous through the publication of the “Maple Leaf Rag” in 1899 and was followed by “The Entertainer” in 1902.  Despite this Scott, and many others of the time, were later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados.  It was not until a major ragtime revival in the early 1970s that brought them to the fore.

So what’s happening in Britain at this time?  Well – not too much with regard to day-to-day music it would appear.  Many of the earliest parlour songs were transcriptions for voice and keyboard of other music.  Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies, for instance, were traditional “folk” tunes with new lyrics by Moore.  Many arias from Italian operas, particularly those of Bellini and Donizetti, had become parlour songs, with texts either translated or replaced by new lyrics. Various other genres were also performed in the parlour, including patriotic selections, religious songs, and pieces written for the musical stage.  However – excerpts from blackface minstrels, arranged for voice and keyboard, were particularly popular.  Also we we have a handful of the better-known songs, such as Schubert’s “Serenade”, that became part of the parlour repertory. Lyrics written for parlour songs often have sentimental themes, such as love songs or poetic meditations.  We’ll come to these at a later time.

However – the following has been tracked down as being the top 10 pieces in 1901 to 1910. Starting at 10th best – and heading to number one – we have:

Arthur Collins (1902) we have ‘Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home’.

Harry MacDonough with Miss Walton (1909)‘Shine on Harvest Moon’.

Hayden Quartet (1903) ‘In the Good Old Summer Time’.

Bill Murray in 1905 ‘Yankee Doodle Boy’.

Billy Murray (1904) ‘Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis’.

Byron Harlan (1907) ‘School Days (When We Were a Couple of Kids)’.

Bill Murray (1905) ‘Give my Regards to Broadway’

Hayden Quartet (1908) ‘Take me out to the ball game’.

Hayden Quartet (1904) ‘Sweet Adeline (You’re the Flower of My Heart)’.

And at number one for the years 1901 to 1910 we have:

Bill Murray (1906) ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag (aka ‘The Grand Old Rag’)’.

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A story from Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll

I first started pulling the pieces of this story together some 15 or so years ago.  At that time I was a tutor/speaker for the Workers Educational Association (WEA) and, among many other courses I presented, I offered ‘From Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’.   In due time I moved on, my activities changed and ‘FRT to R’n’R’ went on the back boiler.  I now feel that the time is right to bring it back to life.

I hope you will enjoy it as much I am sure I will.

Ragtime music came from the work camps linked to the railway’s expansion in the USA.  The words of Max Morath an American ragtime pianist, composer, actor and author who was best known for his piano playing .  He was referred to as “Mr. Ragtime”. – ‘Scorned by the establishment as ephemeral at best, trashy at worst, Ragtime was the fountainhead of every rhythmic and stylistic upheaval that has followed in a century of ever evolving American popular music’ – summed up his view of the establishment’s view of the new music.  But, as we shall see, this response to new popular music repeats itself time & time again.

Very few people ever listen by choice to music that they don’t like so, for music to be popular, it has to match or reflect the desires, feelings, conditions and attitudes of its listeners potential and real. Therefore, no commercial composer or performer can afford to ignore their chosen market.  As a result all, strands of composed music can be taken as a reflection of the social environment of the listeners the composer expected.  For the purposes of this course we are interpreting ‘popular music’ as music with mass appeal to the ‘man and woman in the street’ – the ‘Person on the Clapham Omnibus’.  This first session laid the foundations for our exploration of this look at our social history.  What I want to do is tell the story of the popular music as created, released and, above all, enjoyed.

Very few people ever listen by choice to music they don’t like so, for music to be popular, it has to match or reflect the desires, feelings, conditions and attitudes of its listeners potential and real. Therefore, no commercial composer or performer can afford to ignore his chosen market.  As a result all strands of composed music can be taken as a reflection of the social environment of the listeners the composer expected.

Almost everybody has a favorite tune or song, something that can instantly bring back a very special memory – good or bad.  However, the power of music to bring back that personal past is not limited to a single tune – or even a single event.

‘If music be the food of love, play on’ from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night conjures up one social aspect of music and Noel Coward’s comment in 1930 that ‘Strange how potent cheap music is’ from Private Lives gives musical meaning a different slant.  I think us, though, should start our path to understanding and enjoying the social underpinning of popular music with Ragtime and Scott Joplin’s 1899 Maple Leaf Rag

New Orleans was its birthplace – 1896 legislation created institutionalized segregation and tended to drive classically trained coloured musicians into the black community.  Changing work patterns took the black population north to Chicago, and the 1919 prohibition act created the illegal, gangster owned speakeasies.  Ragtime morphed into Jazz – music that was an integral part of this; music that was variously described as ‘the ultimate in rugged individualism and the creative process incarnate’ and ‘a manifestation of a low streak in man’s taste that has not yet come out in civilization’s wash’

In Britain we had our Music Halls that developed out of do-it-yourself pub entertainment & reigned supreme as the source of popular entertainment. The ‘Halls’ were frequented by ‘sporting aristocrats’ as well as the ‘working classes’, and made performers like Marie Lloyd national idols.

We’ll come to those next week and hope you do too!I first started pulling the pieces of this story together some 15 or so years ago.  At that time I was a tutor/speaker for the Workers Educational Association (WEA) and, among many other courses I presented, I offered ‘From Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll’.   In due time I moved on, my activities changed and ‘FRT to R’n’R’ went on the back boiler.  I now feel that the time is right to bring it back to life. I hope you will enjoy it as much I am sure I will.

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We enjoyed this in years gone by

Britain has many ‘traditional’ activities that, in summer or harvest time, bring all members of the community together for a celebration – a celebration that can go on for the best part of a week or more.  The town where I now live had a reputation for their ‘Feast’ but, I’m afraid, those events seem to have gone absent of late.

The county magazine of 1936-8 tells us of earlier times in the community of the Deepings:

‘The village feast, lasting a week, still survives, and last year was greater than ever, two fields hard by the church being necessary to accommodate the entertainment kings, and people flocked in crowds from neighbouring villages.  A luscious yellow plum retains its name of “The Feast” plum, being ripe at this time, and “duck and green peas” is the time-honoured dish of the old “Deepingers” who rejoice at the homecoming of their sons and daughters.’

There is an interesting point in connection with this popular event, for although St. James’ Day is July 26th, “Feast Sunday” is the second Sunday in August.

The answer lay in the change made in the calendar in 1752 when the English date was 11 days behind the continent, but the residents did not alter their feast.  The Parish Constables’ Book settles the query. In 1751 we read “July 3, For watching at Deep Feast 2-0” and in 1752 “Aug. 13 Paid for ale watching 2 days at Feast, 3-3.” I can only assume that these two sums are shillings & pence and not pounds.

Just tagging on for all of this we have the ‘Court of Piepowder’ – a court of justice that was formerly held at fairs to deal with disputes between buyers and sellers.  The literal meaning is ‘wayfarer’s court’ – piepowder comes from the French ‘pied-poudreux’ meaning ‘dusty-footed’ or ‘vagabond’

The village attraction was renewed in 1945 and boasted not only a local plum, ready at this time of year, but also a local duck-and-green-peas dish.  Both were a welcome change from the stuffed chine mentioned at most other village feasts!  Ale must also have been plentiful as an undisclosed fee was paid for ale-watching!

Unfortunately this whole source of enjoyment ceased quite a few years ago and, although there are many activities for the community, I doubt if we will see the like of this again.