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Maple Leaf Rag Day 2013

March 31, 2013

Continuing the tradition from last year when we began marking the anniversary of Scott Joplin’s funeral on 1 April 1917 with a playing of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, everyone is invited to play this piece on their instrument of choice, or just listen to it, this April 1st.

It was Scott Joplin’s wish to have the MLR played at his funeral in 1917, but it never was. It not only launched his career as a composer, but it also propelled Ragtime into the international musical spotlight in the late 1890s and set the stage for the rise of jazz and other forms of popular music. Ragtime was actually America’s first popular musical genre to achieve widespread attention (and that attention was not always nice — many in the musical establishment at the time feared that Ragtime would lead to the destruction of civilized society; those predictions have proven wrong… so far!)

So let’s do our best to honor the Maple Leaf Rag on April 1st. If you play it already, perform it as if you were personally asked by Scott Joplin to perform it at his funeral. And if you can’t play it, try learning it on whatever instrument you prefer (humming, whistling, spoons & cheeks are fine, too :)). If you’re not a musician, give it a listen on this day.

Own It

One of the things that Ragtime sparked was improvisation, as different performers would take a piece like the MLR and personalize it with their own embellishments. Eubie Blake, Jelly Roll Morton and many other pianists of the ragtime and early jazz era enjoyed riffing on the MLR and other of Joplin’s pieces.

Here’s an awesome, stride-tinged contemporary example by the great Adam Swanson doing his own version of the Maple Leaf Rag in 2012:

Martin Spitznagel takes the MLR on a jazzy romp here:

Cory Hall does a perfect straight-up MLR rendition here:

Did you play it or otherwise enjoy the MLR on April 1st? Do you know of different versions played on different instruments? Leave us a note in the comments. If you’ve got a video of yourself performing it or another favorite version of it, include a link in your comments.

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