Stepping Out Of The Shade

As I watch civilization slowly emerge from our pandemic hibernation, I realize we still live in a dangerous world. I find myself in a tentative group, semi-fortified with my two immunizations but about to head back into isolation that has thus far spared me an agonizing demise. And so, continuing my concerted exercise to stay positive, as far as that is possible, I try to image how culture will survive in a post-pandemic world.

The first thing I realize is that in the field of music, the bulldozer of addictive noise and its acceptance as music, was already demolishing what we have previously revered as classic or classical. Throbbing, screamingly repetitive phrases drew gigantic audiences, and the purveyors absconded with huge financial resources. That onslaught will only continue until the public is educated to appreciate the intricacies of more sophisticated composition and performance. In a post pandemic nation, the fine arts must be raised to a higher priority in all levels of education.

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This must start in elementary and secondary schools by insisting on sophisticated music programs and music appreciation classes in the curriculum. This will be a hard sell against funding for bloated administrative functions, sports programs, and transportation services.

“Our audiences are so old,” is a refrain I hear frequently and I’m afraid my response is now to ask what those observers are doing about it. For one thing, the music The Syncopated Times celebrates is infrequently performed in venues where young people under 18 can be found. Bars, lounges, dance halls and even concert halls are adult venues, not teen dating destinations. Young people have to hear the music to appreciate it.

We need more Ragtime piano players in pizza parlors, ice cream emporia, and amusement parks. Jazz ensembles need to be playing in restaurants and even back on street corners a la NOLA. I think of Bob Darch playing the piano on the back of his old pickup truck while his friends drove him around Sedalia. I was interested to read in the TST last month of Jacque Ferland’s musical tour of New Orleans with Josh Paxton, and a piano on the back of his truck. An old idea is new again though how they have kept the instruments tuned escapes me.

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And, remember the influence of The Sting? We need another really great movie with a modern ragtime score. It is time to seek out great screenwriters and link them with talented composers. I had always hoped some of the Hollywood ragtime fans would do that but there must be others with proper connections to a modern George Roy Hill or Tony Bill. There have been several recent movies that might have been elevated by a syncopated score.

Stepping Out Of The Shade
Bob Darch plays his open-air Cornish upright on the streets of Sedalia, MO in the Sedalia Centennial Parade, October 1960. (photo courtesy Becky Imhauser)

I have not begun to discuss virtual performance or the recording industry in the post pandemic age. I got stuck in the CD world after avidly pursuing LPs, 45s, cassettes, and Betas. Now, I have hundreds if not thousands of little silver, hole punched discs. MP3s and the mystic world of digital music have left me in the dust. However, perhaps Jazz and syncopation will lure civilization out of isolation into a more intelligent and civilized world through these modern ways of enjoying recorded music. I think miniature piano rolls linked with electronic keyboards just might have an appeal to younger listeners. It would be a bit of the old and the new.

Prior to the advent of the pandemic, I was watching our country and most of the world diving headlong into the violence, depravity, and ignorance of the Middle Ages. Hopefully, this time of isolation will evolve into a post pandemic era revitalizing our culture by a citizenry that appreciates its depth. It is not likely to “just happen” We all need to work more diligently to make it occur. And, if I may, from my new hero Amanda Gorman and her “The Hill We Climb”:

When day comes, we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it,
If only we’re brave enough TO BE IT.

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Larry Melton was a founder of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974 and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive in 1976. He was a Sedalia Chamber of Commerce manager before moving on to Union, Missouri where he is currently helping to conserve the Ragtime collection of the Sedalia Heritage Foundation. Write him at [email protected]

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