Glenn Jenks was a favorite at ragtime events, both as a pianist and for his compositions. Though he had a significant following in the ragtime crowd, he did not restrict himself to that style. In his early professional days, he played guitar, sang, toured with folk singer/composer Jud Strunk, worked in vaudeville, accompanied dancers, played piano bars, etc. In his hometown of Camden, Maine, he was an admired musician and teacher, and in the 1990s he began an annual ragtime event at Camden’s vintage opera house (built in 1894, a time when any theater might be called an “opera house”).
In 2016, Jenks’s admirers were shocked to learn of his unexpected and untimely passing. We lost our dear friend, but his legacy lived on in his compositions, his recordings, and his students. Aaron Robinson, one such student, joined with Faith Getchell (Glenn’s widow) in compiling Jenks’s Complete Ragtime Works for Piano – thirty-four piano rags, plus one collaborative piano rag and two for guitar (reviewed in TST, July 2020).
In 2019, Aaron Robinson and the members of the Camden area Ragtime Revue Board revived Jenks’s annual ragtime event, only to have COVID-19 force a pause in 2020–21. Resuming in 2022, the concert was held not in Camden, but at the nearby Rockport Opera House, another vintage house, which opened in 1891. It’s a beautiful theater with very good acoustics, and the house was packed.
Robinson, as artistic director, took charge on stage and is a highly skilled MC and pianist. He played several rags, including a special arrangement of Euday Bowman’s “12th Street Rag” in which his 10-year-old son Andrew would strike a single dominant note at the end of each phrase. Robinson was also joined by Stephen Costanza, author of the superb children’s book King of Ragtime. The Story of Scott Joplin (reviewed in TST, Oct. 2021), in a four-hand version of Glenn Jenks’s “Desdemona.”
Max Morath had been chosen to receive a Glenn Jenks Lifetime Achievement Award, but was unable to travel to the event; the award was subsequently mailed to him. As the Revue’s organizers still wanted to have an award ceremony, I was invited to receive a Glenn Jenks Ragtime Emeritus Award which, bearing Glenn’s name, made it special for me. In addition, on the day before the concert, I gave a PowerPoint presentation on “The Life and Afterlife of Scott Joplin” at the nearby Sail Power and Steam Museum.
The concert headliners were the piano duo Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi. I’m not alone in admiring this pair; I’ve seen them perform several times in the past and have viewed many of their YouTube videos. In addition to their spectacular playing, they also provide sparkling showmanship. Between numbers they banter humorously, and their playing provides additional, visual amusement. The traditional practice of four-hand piano has performers addressing the closest part of the keyboard. Trick and Alderighi take a different approach. They frequently contort themselves so that each covers the full length of the keyboard, reaching below, above, and between each other’s arms to play notes furthest away; the player seated on the right—near the high part of the keyboard—might stretch to play the lowest bass notes on the left, and the player on the left, nearest to the bass notes, might reach to the right to play notes on the keyboard’s highest ranges. This arm-tangling is not slapstick; it’s more of a whimsical choreography.
Another highlight of the concert was the Halcyon Quartet, which presented two movements from Jenks’s String Quartet in Ragtime: “Papillon” (Butterflies) and “Felix in Horto” (The Cat in the Garden). Merging ragtime’s rhythmic practices with this long-established classical form, Jenks offered masterful string writing, humor (emulations of a cat’s meows), and sly references to one of the ragtime’s early classics, “At a Georgia Campmeeting.”
A spectacular finale was presented by an ad hoc twenty-four voice ragtime chorus and soloists Erin Chenard (soprano) and David Myers, Jr. (tenor), accompanied by Robinson at the piano. The ensemble sang three sections from Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha: “We’re Goin’ Around,” “Aunt Dinah Has Blowed de Horn,” and “A Real Slow Drag.”
Reflecting on Jenks’s parallel career as a teacher, the Ragtime Revue looks to the musical future as well as the past, recognizing and rewarding promising young performers with Glenn Jenks “Future in Music” prizes. A kilted Owen Kennedy, the 2019 recipient, opened the concert by walking through the audience while playing “McFall’s March” on a fiddle and, with Robinson accompanying at the piano, “Fly in the Puddin’.” The 2022 recipient of the prize was Mavy Le, who played electric violin, accompanied by her own pre-recorded tracks.
The Glenn Jenks Ragtime Revue was a quality musical event. Judging by the packed house and from comments I received from audience members, it also has substantial support from the community. Glenn Jenks’s legacy lives on.