Experiencing the Ragtime World from Home

I grew up in the 1940’s reading science fiction stories of time travel and of mysterious flying carpets. Today as I sit here in still small-town Missouri and begin to type this column, I am reminded of the blessing of being here and yet simultaneously, being anywhere I want to be without time travel or Aladdin’s fictional carpet. Now this isn’t another of my metaphysical meanderings. It’s a reality.

Union, Missouri, is but a tiny dot on a map in the East Central part of the state. It is one of those places in limbo between the suburbs and rural America with both feet still firmly planted in rural Missouri mud while being figuratively plummeted about the head and shoulders by urban mud coming down I-44 from St. Louis. But I begin to roam and need to tie this together.


If anyone would have told me 20 years ago when I retired from teaching college history that I would have a rich life of national and international involvement, I would have been skeptical to say the least. Yet in these intervening years as my ability to be physically active has deteriorated, I am more socially and mentally active than I ever was able to be while involved in my former career.

The fact is, I sit here at my desk all day having daily contact with some of the world’s most fascinating people: talented musical artists, gifted researchers, people with challenging inquires, offers of fascinating new information or maybe simply a small child just wanting to know something about “old ‘timey’ music.”

This past week brought all this to mind as I found myself nearly overwhelmed by multiple projects. Any one of them would have been a treat to pursue but collectively they provide a veritable treasure trove of pursuits. And all this came amidst a personal family loss and the death of a dear colleague. In grief, there is nothing like productive activity to pass sad times and lift the spirit.


Now in my rumination, I began looking back on the past week to be able to illustrate my point, only to be reminded that several of my largest endeavors are not mine yet to reveal but rather remain for the creators or originators to divulge. Nevertheless, I’m inclined to at least generalize my activity.

computer Scott joplinI begin with the Sedalia Heritage and Joplin Festival Foundations. Several times a week they forward inquiries or requests for which they simply do not have time or resources to answer from there in the Cradle of Ragtime. These ranged in the last few days from a request by a third grader for information about Scott Joplin, which they sent to me as if I must have known him in life, to the need for a specific kind of small women’s musical group to perform in Latin America. (I knew the perfect group to contact.)

That would have been enough, but I was also blessed to be working with Steve Spracklen who has meticulously transcribed well over 35 hours of conversation with “Ragtime Bob” Darch. Steve’s book is about to be self-published in time for Bob’s centennial birthday, March 31. Watch for that news in TST next month…it is vintage Darch.

I am also trying to wrap up a forward for another book that reaches way back in my ragtime past. The daughter of a 1960s Sedalia newspaper editor discovered her father’s manuscript of a book about Sedalia and Joplin that he researched while working in Missouri. He conducted extensive interviews with original ragtime figures and has interesting perspective on their lives and times. He also talked with people who were living at the turn of the century, several in their nineties. Watch for the self-publication announcement, hopefully soon.


I also hope to be announcing the publication in the TST of a historic ragtime pilgrimage that has fascinated me since hearing of it 50 years ago. I have just finished a column to introduce this amazing experience.

This past week I had the immense pleasure of meeting Taslimah Bey by email and telephone conversation. She spent the last week of February as the 2020 Joplin Ragtime Festival Foundation’s Artist in Residence. I didn’t have to be in Sedalia to feel the glow of her soulful personality and the exuberance of her interest in ragtime performance and historical research. Her heartfelt sincerity confirms the peacefulness her name implies. I’ll be writing more about this talented lady in the future.

Every month brings correspondence from around the word and especially from Europe where ragtime seems to be alive, well, and growing. Eric Crees sent a delightful CD of his Symphonic Brass of London ragtime recordings which I have forwarded on to Scott Yanow for a professional review. As I listened, I had visions of the Welsh brass band celebrated in the 1969 movie, Brassed Off.

I do wish I was still an amateur philatelist as I would have added measurably to my foreign stamp album last week alone. Most of my foreign treasures were gathered as a college student at the University of Missouri when I ran Peabody’s Books and mail order used book search service in another lifetime. Ah, but another roaming.


Finally, I continue to pursue performance grants and fellowships for friends. Ferreting out these elusive bounties is proving to be a study in frustration as even inquiries seem to require endless paperwork and information not even a birth mother would know (or want to remember). Still, I realize if I were altruistically donating large awards, I would want to know all I could about the recipients. It has occurred to me they only need to reference Google—as our browsers probably know more about us than we know about ourselves.

So, who needs magic or science fiction to wander the planet today, when we have PCs and Malus domestica to keep in touch with friends and convey us to exotic places?


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