I learned to play the piano during the ragtime revival of the 1970s that accompanied the release of
The Sting, and ragtime has always been high on the list of music I love to play and write. I composed my first rag ( Fenway, included in the set below) when I was 12, and I’ve come up with more off and on over the years. In 2007, I took eleven of my piano originals and arranged them using my synthesizer studio into into an album for a ragtime orchestra. The results are below. I hope you enjoy them!
This rag takes its name from the locals’ nickname for my long-time hometown of Flagstaff, AZ. It is what I call a “cyclic” rag, in which a melodic or rhythmic motive appears in different guises in all the themes.
Written in memory of my grandmother, Agnes R. Harrington (1900-2004), who lived the later part of her life in Cooperstown, NY, at the headwater of the Susquehanna, and who at age 103 could effortlessly play tunes she learned during the ragtime heyday. A cyclic melodic motive appears at the start of the A theme, and gradually gains prominence until it permeates the texture in the D theme. The rhythm slips back and forth between straight 2/4 and a tango. In the final theme, parallel tritones appear in the inner piano voices against the cyclic motive, doubled in the outer voices.
This rag features an arrangement with a brass chorus backing up the piano and stringed instruments. One of my favorite rhythms appears in the B, C, and D themes, in which the tango spans two measures of the 2/4 stride; this was used to brilliant effect, for example, by Scott Joplin in Gladiolus Rag. I am also fond of suspended seconds and fourths, and they appear throughout.
This is the only rag I’ve written in swing rhythm. In contrast to the fuller, more concert hall like sound of Republic Rag, this is arranged in the style of a small folk ensemble, perhaps plucking away in a saloon, with some motivic nods to the great ragtime composer James Scott in the C and D themes.
Here is the only rag I have written for a “concerto” instrument other than piano, with a violin trading off the melody and supporting lines with the piano. A cyclic rhythmic and melodic motive appears in the A, C, and D themes. The C theme modulates from D major to G minor rather than the usual major, inverting the cyclic motive, and the D theme is a stab at ragtime minimalism, employing a static harmonic outline with the various instruments playing ostinati that combine to suggest a theme.
Growing up, I could just see the hazy outline of Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains from my bedroom window on a clear day. The B and C themes look a bit mountainous on the written manuscript. Like Flag Rag and Republic Rag, this employs my favorite key sequence of E flat modulating to A flat at the C theme.
This is the piano rag as perpetuum mobile, with a breather at the C theme. Toward the end is an experiment in the theme-and-variations genre, with the “standard” ragtime conclusion augmented by additional and progressively virtuosic repeats of the D theme.
Here’s my first rag, set here in a basic arrangement fitting the simplicity of the themes conjured up by a 12-year-old. It is dedicated to my father, who was a long-suffering admirer of a certain long-suffering baseball team that did eventually reverse a certain curse.
This is the second of my theme-and-variations rags. The repeats of the B and D themes are explicitly written out and employ inversion, with all or part of each theme played upside down. This rag is also an experiment in extreme syncopation; the melody is broken into chord fragments that jump around the beat, suggesting a melody rather than actually stating it.
This is a slow drag, arranged with the guitars and piano trading off the leading roles. I worked out in that angsty time between high school and college, which probably has a lot to do with its character.
Minor mode ragtime is a bit unusual, but here goes anyway, in C minor at the outset, and modulating to F minor and E flat minor for the final two themes. The straightforward harmonic progressions are combined with variations in the repeats of the C and D themes, and a tempo indication in my original (and by now somewhat tattered) manuscript of “Fast.” I have edited some of my rags, but the piano part of this arrangement remains in its original form, which I remember writing in one marathon session when I was 14. As a teenager, I usually played this rag a lot faster than I do here. I must be getting mellower as I slowly fossilize.