Treemonisha’s Premiere, 50 Years On

I surprised myself when I placed the phone back on its port and just sat to let the inspiring emotion of the previous conversation mellow. I had just been visiting with T.J. Anderson, about the first concert performance of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha in Atlanta, in 1972. The venue was Symphony Hall, with the Atlanta Symphony directed by Robert Shaw. Morehouse University had produced the modern premiere under the leadership of Dr. Wendell Whalen. The call brought back a flood of memories and a great deal for me to ponder. Dr. Anderson had orchestrated Joplin’s score that William Bolcom edited with “slight assistance,” from Dr. Anderson. It had not been an easy undertaking for the men due to a disagreement with a belated copyright owner, but Bolcom and Anderson accomplished their roles with great professional dignity, awesome talent, and friendship. Both composers have produced a prodigiously important body of work in their long careers. Now fifty years later I am astonished that these two eminent American composers had been involved in staging Joplin’s then 60-year-old opera and that I have had recent communication with these two legends. In this era of divisiveness and racial conflict, these men had been part of bringing the work of the son of a slave to public attention. It had been my privilege to attend that premiere and meet these great American composers. (see TST Apri
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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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