Ragtime

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Ragtime is a style of music most notable for its steady bass rhythms laid under elaborate syncopated melodies on the piano. The genre reached popularity during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the American South. It was mainly found in Southern and Midwestern states, but a number of composers and performers came from the East and West coasts. Missouri was considered to be the “heartland” of Ragtime (History of Ragtime). As a strong influence to the evolution of jazz during the twentieth century, ragtime lacked two main characteristics of jazz, melody improvisation and blue notes. According to the Performing Arts Encyclopedia, it is portrayed as music by the "time." It is music created for an audience. It is a unique style of music whose purpose is for an individual to feel a “propulsion, swing, and if played correctly, a musical looseness generally unknown to the public at large” (History of Ragtime). The term “Ragtime” itself came from the original term “ragged,” which by definition means; full of rough and sharp projections, in a wild or neglected state, rough and imperfect and harsh, as in sound. This ultimately was Ragexternal image 13-LC-Joplin.jpgtime in the sense that it broke all the rules of music prior to its time in the early twentieth century and “misplaced” beats within the music, which was looked at as “ragged-time” for its raw and broken melodies. Some composers of Ragtime include: Felix Arndt, Scott Haydn, Charlie Patton, Scott Joplin, Charles Hunter, Thomas Turpin, Louis Chauvin, and Charles L. Johnson. Scott Joplin was considered to be the “King of Ragtime” in the Midwest. He wrote 44 Ragtime pieces and one Ragtime ballet in his lifetime. One of his most famous pieces was the “Maple Leaf Rag.” It was the start of his career and fame. “Joplin and his fellow ragtime composers rejuvenated American popular music, fostering an appreciation for African American music among European Americans by creating exhilarating and liberating dance tunes, changing American musical taste. Its syncopation and rhythmic drive gave it a vitality and freshness attractive to young urban audiences indifferent to Victorian proprieties [...] Joplin's ragtime expressed the intensity and energy of a modern urban America” (Scott Joplin). Thus, Ragtime was an innovative musical genre of its time, which, much like rock and roll and other forms of popular musical genre, invited people of all ages to break the rules of what was expected of music at the time along with the attitude of the style and think outside the clichés of the art of music.
The Heyday of Ragtime and the Tin Pan Alley:
If we are to trace Ragtime back to its roots, we find ourselves on a path that is every bit as geographical as it is musical. The “heartland” of Ragtime may be in Missouri, but it was in the dirty back alleys of New York publishing companies that it finds its popularity. However it is necessary to first understand the historical climate of the music industry during the late 19th and early 20th century. Thomas Edison had only just invented the phonograph record player in 1877 and it wasn't until around the first World War that it really started to be used commercially. This meant that most of the music being sold at the time was sheet music, “It was in the medium of printed paper, and not grooved lacquer or vinyl discs, that songs gained popularity in the first two decades of the 20th century,” (This Day in History). This meant that almost everybody who was listening American Popular music at this time was also seeing it performed live. Music was largely an interactive experience, it was somewhere you went, someone you saw, music was at the time, just as much about the presence of the audience as it was the performer. The young and growing music industry at the time was not much different.
The music business from around 1885 until the Great Depression was largely located in a concentrated area of New York on West 28th street between Broadway and 6th Avenue known as the Tin Pan Alley. The Tin Pan Alley was a large collection of music publishers and songwriters who all set up shop in the same general area. It was the central hive of the music industry; in this compact area of both artists and business men music was be made performed and sold all at the same time and place. Publishing companies were pumping out music as fast as possible to turn a profit on this new fledgling industry, Isaac Goldberg and George Gershwin describe it saying “Profit is the wind that fills this sail and points this weather vain. In the Alley song becomes synthetic, one weeps one laughs at so many a percent” (Tin Pan Alley: A Chronicle of the American Popular music Racket). The Tin Pan Alley was one of the first forms of the commercialization of music that we see in America.
During the height of its popularity Ragtime was largely being stripped down and mass produced in publishing houses located in the Tin Pan Alley. Like with most art forms, with a mainstreaming and commodization comes a complete disregard for quality. Ragtime itself as a musical form could hardly be expressed on a paper, as George Girshwin describes it “Academic syncopation may bet set down on paper. The notes of ragtime, as of jazz may be set down likewise, but unless there is an added something which defines notation, one hears sounds not ragtime. Ragtime is an aural, not notational tradition” (Tin Pan Alley: A Chronicle of the American Popular music Racket). Ragtime as genre really has nothing to do with musical composition. Like Jazz it takes it roots in the old African American spirituals, music that was largely memorized and improvised, its music that is defined by the soul and not from the notes. However Tin Pan Alley composers attempted to simplify these complex syncopations of both melody and harmony for their mass production and availability to the mainstream, “Tin Pan Alley, reaching for the quick buck, flooded the market with an inundation of Ragtime”(Ragtime: A Musical Cultural History). This is most evidently seen in Irving Berlins famous Alexander's Ragtime Band. In 1911 when he wrote Alexander's Ragtime Band Irving Berlin was composing multiple songs a day for the Harry Von Tilzer publishing company; and is probably the most famous of the Tin Pan Alley composers. Irving first gained notoriety with his hit Alexander's Ragtime Band, which became an world wide success and is largely responsible for internationalizing American popular music. However Alexander's Ragtime Band technically isn't ragtime, “anyone who plays the piano would quickly recognize the differences between it and a true rag like Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer," which places some fairly significant demands on both the left and right hand. "Alexander's Ragtime Band" is a vastly simpler piece for an amateur to master, and this greatly encouraged sheet music sales, which topped 1.5 million copies in the first 18 months after its publication”(This Day in History). It's also debated whether or not Berlin actually stole the song from Scott Joplin who claimed he had written a similar song much earlier. Either way the rise of the Tin Pan Alley and the music industry can be in many ways viewed from the same perspective that Elliot sees with the popularization of the gramophone. It grays the lines of art and entertainment to the point that the two become almost indistinguishable; and as a result the quality of the art always suffers. Art and music has struggled with the overarching influence of media since its conception and probably always will. Like in the days of the music hall, and live performances as an audience, as actors, movers, and definers of our culture we decide what is or isn't quality in art. We as an audience decide when to throw the beer sopped rag, and when to applaud, we are Elliot's vast an ever encroaching wasteland.


The Music Hall in London

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What: The Music Hall represented not only a physical venue but also a particular form of British theatrical showcases and entertainment.
When: Popular between 1850 and 1960.
Where: The first music halls were established in different areas of London, (Canterbury, Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth).
Performances: The Music Hall did not limit itself to a single mode of stage entertainment but exhibited a variety of exciting performances, a few of which included: juggling, strength competitions, singing, puppets, knife throwing, sword swallowing, escapologists, mime, impressionists, and Burlesque shows.
Layout: The layout of the music halls were unlike the rows of seats we are accustomed to seeing in theaters today; instead audience members sat in chairs at tables where they could eat, smoke, and drink. Needless to say this environment was very appealing to those in attendance, and the halls proved to be a defining cultural aspect of the working class.
Audience: The majority of the music halls had a room capacity of 200-300 people. The sociable and relaxing atmosphere of the music halls was particularly attractive to the working class. While today movie theaters dedicate much time and money to advertise for silent and uninterrupted viewings, the audiences at the music halls were encouraged to interact with the performers and to boo and cheer for acts they despised and loved.
The Music Hall was even accredited with enhancing the lower-classes social and moral status, claiming:
They have created a great moral and social improvement amongst the working classes of this country. You refer to the statistics of drunkenness and breaches of the peace now and twelve or fifteen years back and you will see a wonderful decrease in these offences...To what then, I would ask, is to be attributed the decrease of this offence? Why, to nothing else but the establishment of cheap and rational entertainment which these music halls have provided for the working classes (The Popularity of Music Hall).
Decline: The Music Hall underwent adjustments that clashed with its original aura and intent and subsequently fell into decline. With the start of authorities cracking down on alcohol consumption and sales in the halls, the layout of the theater changed and the successful combination of entertainment, eating, and drinking were forced to separate. As the dining setup was removed the atmosphere was also transformed leaving the working class deprived of theatrical engagement and their favorite entertainment outlet. In an attempt to maintain popularity after losing the rowdy working class audience, the Music Hall adapted its performances and environment to appeal to the middle-class.
The middle-class found the music halls more “socially acceptable” once converted into Variety Theaters. And the remaining music halls and the Music Hall art-form were lost in the wave of technology, “the encouragement of the cheap and rapid-breeding cinema,” and the advancements in the radio, gramophone and dance music (Eliot).
(Information gathered from: (Browett, Eliot, The Popularity of the Music Hall).)

Music Hall Performances:

In the context of the morally righteous, sexually oppressive, Victorian age, it is no surprise that activity taken place within Music-Halls was considered contentious to the practicing conservatives. The basis in which the halls were financed through the sale of alcohol consumption, supported the hedonistic lifestyle, thus stratifying the moral classes of the patrons. The music halls became venues for the working and middle class to socialize, drink, dine, dance and flirt, all while enjoying a variety of live entertainment.
Performers’ interaction with the audience developed ad hoc to the rowdiness of the crowd, as they were increasingly becoming inebriated as well as distracted by other socially engaging activities. The female singers would achieve this interaction and command of attention, not only through lusty winks and gestures, but through intervals of shouting their lyrics out into the crowd. Pre-cursed street performance was alluded to through jerks of the body after each verse (Bailey 2004). Audience participation was further encouraged during the typical solo musical performances by chorus sing-alongs of popular songs. The original folky influence that resonated through the music styles gradually became phased out by 1870, as a result of lack of audience captivating capabilities. The Polka, Jig, and the Waltz became implemented through venues as European and Irish influences increased.

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The entertainers did more than just provide visual and audio entertainment to the crowd, they provided a voice and connection to their lower to middle class. “Star Performers received acclaim by critics as the true curators of their culture, as representatives of English character” (Faulk 2004). The entertainment was not just for the people, but fortified their identity within their class and nationality. “The form offered a reliable index of national vitality and values and the most authentic expressive form of native Englishness” (Faulk 2004). The main themes of the songs performed were expressions on “marriage, booze romantic adventure, mother’s in law, dear old pals, and seaside holidays” (Bailey 1994)

Performers such as singer Marie Lloyd (Matilda Alice Victoria Wood- 1870-1922), not only pushed the limits of social moral with her double entendre lyrics, and risqué stage performances, she also addressed the hardships in lower class life, particularly those pertaining to women of her time. T.S. Elliot praised success in her speaking to and for her audience as he states “No other comedian succeeded so well in giving expression to the life of that audience, in raising it to a kind of art.” (Elliot 1922). Elliot goes on to acknowledge talents by noting; “I have called her the expressive figure of the lower classes, There has been no such expressive figure for any other class” (Elliot 1922)


The Canterbury Music Hall
If, like me, you’re still kind of a sucker for clever and important-seeming symbolism at this late stage in your academic career, then I invite you to relish the implication of The Canterbury Music Hall’s 1856 expansion from 700 to 1,500 seats (which, if you do the math, is actually a rather significant redux, viz. its size more than doubles). But first, a bit of necessary back-story.
On 17 May 1852, following a year of construction, The Canterbury Music Hall opened its doors, so to speak, marking what Saxophonist Benny Green later-on crowned “the most significant date in the history of the music hall”—effectively what Green meant by this was that, for all practical purposes (meaning: transitional fuzzy areas aside) 5/17/1852 marked the first date in the history of the music hall.[[#sdfootnote1sym|1]] At this time, capacity was still well under 1,000 persons. Wikipedia, in anesthetized prose, describes it as “look[ing] like most contemporary concert rooms within public houses of the period.” One might think of this as neither spectacular nor especially unspectacular. The Canterbury Music Hall was somewhere that people went to see a show.
However, by 1856 when the New Canterbury Hall was erected—as stated: expanding the interior by more than 100%—it’s safe to say that the social climate of the era, combined with what became a highly interactive relationship between audience and performer (see Music Hall Performances above), demanded more from its venue. People did not just go to see a show. In effect, people were the show; the music hall, a stage, its own self-contained arena. That there was another smaller, albeit attention-demanding, stage inside, that the on-stage performer demanded your eyes and ears—all of this became beside the point of the larger environment which dictated the terms of the audience-performer interaction (or so the symbolically-attuned late-stage student might put forth). In 1856, the New Canterbury Hall looked like this (notice in the picture that the attention is to the Hall’s entrance and its occupants rather than to the stage or performer, obscured by the foreground):
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This hall had a bar (you can see upstairs) which overlooked the hall itself. It’s probably safe to say that if one single thing actually did dictate the terms of the audience-performer interaction, it was alcohol. Up near the front of the hall, a chairman would sit/play between acts (a sort of nineteenth century MC/crowd-warmer), imploring the audience to drink. The roof was retractable so as to allow cigar smoke to coil upward in what must have looked to by giant clouds, once, inside, the smoke became impenetrable. Yet, most importantly—the saved a crescendoed-toward factoid for the especially symbolism-ticklish late-stage student—is that this hall was actually built around the old. Which is to say, for a time, The Canterbury Music Hall was literally engulfed by its predecessor—one small set of walls standing within a set of larger-. If this image doesn’t sum up, for you, the feeling of a movement’s growth and re-becoming but simultaneous faithfulness to that very movement, I’m not exactly sure what will. The old hall was demolished in a single weekend. As it were, all of this happened inside.



References:

(Ragtime Sources)
"History of Ragtime [article]:Article Brief Display: Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress." American Memory from the Library of
Congress - Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Apr. 2011. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.200035811/default.html
"Ragtime (1981) - IMDb." The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2011. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082970/
"Ragtime (musical) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragtime_(musical)
"Ragtime Piano Roll Page ."Trachtman.NET Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2011. http://www.trachtman.org/ragtime/PianoRolls.htm
"Scott Joplin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Apr. 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Joplin

(Tin Pan Alley Sources)
Berlin, Edward A. "Ragtime: A Musical & Cultural History, Edward A. Berlin." Jazz Books : JAZZSCRIPT.CO.UK : Jazz CDs, DVDs and Videos : Books on Jazz for Sale. Web. 22 Apr. 2011. <http://www.jazzscript.co.uk/books/ragberlin.htm>.


Goldberg, Isaac. Tin Pan Alley a Chronicle of the American Popular Music Racket. New York: John Day, 1930. Print.


"Irving Berlin Copyrights the Biggest Pop Song of the Early 20th Century — History.com This Day in History — 3/18/1911." History.com — History Made Every Day — American & World History. Web. 22 Apr. 2011. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/irving-berlin-copyrights-the-biggest-pop-song-of-the-early-20th-century>.

(Music Hall Sources)
Browett, Eric. “Aspects of the London Music Halls.” Sept. 2009. Web. 7 April 2011.
<http://www.northdownandardsu3a.org.uk/pdf%20files/New%20Folder/ASPECT
S%20OF%20THE%20LONDON%20MUSIC%20HALLS.pdf>.
Eliot, T.S. “London Letter.”< http://world.std.com/~raparker/exploring/tseliot/works/london-letters/london-
letter-1922-12.html>.
The Popularity of the Music Hall. Web. 7 April 2011.
<https://sites.google.com/site/thepopularityofmusichall/the-history-of-music-
hall>.

(Music Hall Performance Sources)
Bailey, Peter. Conspiracies of Meaning: Music-Hall and the Knowingness of Popular Culture. Oxford Univrsity Press, 1994

Faulk, Barry J. Music Hall and Modernity: The Late-Victorian Discovery of Popular Culture. Ohio University Press, 2004.

Kift, Dagmar. The Victorian Music Hall; Cultures, Class and Conflict.The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1996

Wikipedia.org: Music-Hall. Last edited: April 3rd, 2011
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_hall

(The Canterbury Music Hall Sources)

 Benny Green (ed) (1986) The Last Empires: A Music Hall Companion pp. 7 (Pavilion, 1986) ISBN 1-85145-061-0