What do we know about Scott Joplin?

Tradition says he was born 24 November 1868, so he would have been just 150 years old today.  The son of a newly-freed Texas slave, how did he learn what he learned about music?

Anecdotes relate that the young Scott Joplin gained access to a piano in a white-owned home where his mother worked, and taught himself the rudiments of music. In support of this story, we note its reflection in details of Treemonisha, an opera that Joplin published in 1911.

In 1896, it appears that he attended music classes at George R. Smith College in Sedalia,MO. Since the college and its records were destroyed in a fire in 1925, we have no evidence of the extent of Joplin’s studies, but anecdotes suggest that until the end of the 1890s he still lacked complete mastery of music notation.

— from Ed Berlin’s brief biography

Joplin wanted to compose opera.  His 1901 opera, A Guest of Honor, was about Booker T Washington’s invitation to the White House. The topic was too hot to handle in that era, and Joplin could not find a publisher.  He took it on tour, hiring a company of his own, but the box office proceeds were stolen, he couldn’t pay the cast’s hotel bill, and the hotel manager confiscated everything, including the score.  The score was never seen again by Joplin or anyone.

His only published opera was Treemonisha, six years later.

Richard Stoker

Richard Stoker is what in the old days would have been called a polymath. Not only is he an accomplished musician involved in composing, teaching, playing and musicology, he also writes poetry, novels, short stories, articles, and reviews, and is an activist for human rights. Furthermore Stoker is an accomplished artist – his works can be seen on the sleeves of some of his CD recordings.    Read more

Today is his 80th birthday.

what’s a poem? a dream no less
not a verse? yet it’s more…
a soufflé turned out well?
a thrown honed pot? glazed and
fired to perfection not a ‘second’?
a new experience? a shattering blow?
a chilling cold that runs you
through and through? yet it’s more…
a coming together in the readers’ mind?
some say it’s a gift the first line
perhaps? yet it’s more…
a poem is a pearl? … but it’s more … it’s more

— Richard Stoker


Domenico Scarlatti was born this day in 1685, the same year as Bach and Handel.  He spent most of his life composing liturgical music.  With a few exceptions, most of it was uninspired.

Age 60, Scarlatti retired from his day job and began composing for the keyboard.  Harpsichords were well-developed and common at the time; the earliest pianos were beginning to appear.  I remember the day when I was 14 and my piano teacher first put a Scarlatti sonata in front of me—“Try this.  I think you might like Scarlatti.”  I never guessed he was a Baroque composer.  To me, the music sounded nothing like Bach.  Vaguely Spanish, with spare construction and dissonances that sounded contemporary.

Scarlatti’s 555 keyboard sonatas are fun to play, fun to listen to, sometimes beautiful, often witty.  He has been called the father of modern keyboard technique.

A Deaf Musician Teaches us to Listen

Listening with the whole body is a skill that Evelyn Glennie had to learn when she was a talented 12-year-old musician who lost her hearing.

Now, as a sensitive performer and talented composer, she teaches us how to listen—something she’s had to work hard at.

“Use your body as a resonating chamber”

Composing music is so much easier than performing—even Beethoven could do it!

Never do today what you can do tomorrow

….Time is something you can always beg, steal or borrow.

Listen to Akire Bubar

Illustration showing a scientist sitting in front of a desk that has a pile of papers on it.

For people in the corporate world, punctuality is an important virtue, but for those who live an artist’s life, it is more important to follow inspiration where it leads, and let creativity set its own schedule.

Personal social lives are something in between, requiring the coordination of schedules, but also subject to the internal imperative that says there is a right time to be alone and a right time to open to each individual friend.


Why have I never heard of Cyril Scott?

“Holding the belief that the more subjects one can, within limits, become interested in, the less time and inclination one has to be unhappy, I will make no excuses for what the friends of my music call my versatility and its detractors the dissipation of my energies, for… in a sad plight is the composer who has no side line or pastime to turn to during those desolate periods when musical ideation gives out, leaving but that painful sense of emptiness and frustration so familiar to all creative artists.”

A Twentieth-century renaissance man, Cyril Scott is best known as a composer, where his work is surprisingly accessible and varied.  He also wrote poetry, philosophy, and fiction.  He painted and sought (before its time) to reform medical practice back toward a naturopathic basis.  He wrote 41 books, many more articles, and 400 musical works, from operas to symphonies, chamber music and melodic settings of poetry with piano accompaniment.  His musical styles were late romantic or jazzy-bluesy, or impressionistic, or combinations.

Image result for paintings cyril scott

CScott_ptg_no2_sm.jpgImage result for cyril scott health diet common senseCyril Scott was born this day in 1879