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George F. Litterst

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100 Years Later, Scott Joplin Makes It to the Disklavier!

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In 1916, the year before his untimely death, Scott Joplin recorded 7 piano rolls. These rolls were recorded during a period in which the concept of “hand-played rolls” was still being developed.

Regrettably, several factors undermined Joplin’s recordings. For starters, the recording technology was limited to capturing the start and stop times of notes as well as the up/down positions of the sustain pedal. No dynamics were captured. In the case of the Connorized rolls that he recorded, the temporal resolution of the holes in the paper was rather course, and apparently the roll editors further quantized Joplin's playing.

In the absence of captured expression and accurate timing, there is little of Joplin's true playing that was captured on these rolls.

His playing was captured with more accuracy during his single recording of the Maple Leaf Rag for Uni-Record. The Uni-Record roll has higher timing resolution than the Connorized rolls and does not suffer from quantization by roll editors. It does, however, appear to suffer from the fact that the performer was physically ill at the time. Similarly, this roll did not capture dynamics.

Fast forward to the present:

Dr. Robert Willey, Associate Professor of Music Media Production and Industry at Ball State University, has established the Scott Joplin Online Centennial (scottjoplinarchive.org). The Online Centennial celebrates the life and work of Scott Joplin in honor of this centennial year of his death and provides an archive that pays tribute to Joplin by offering contemporary recordings of his music made on the Yamaha Disklavier.

The archive consists of many things, the most noteworthy of which is a nearly complete Disklavier collection of Scott Joplin’s compositions for solo piano. The recordings have been made by college piano faculty, advanced piano students, and other professional performers.

The assembly of Disklavier recordings for the archive is still in progress with the goal of establishing a complete collection for the benefit of institutions and scholars.

Currently, most of the Disklavier recordings have been rendered as audio files that can be freely downloaded from the archive’s website. The audio rendering was done by converting Disklavier recordings to audio using the Garritan CFX Concert Grand Virtual Piano. This virtual Yamaha concert grand was sampled at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London and can be used to convert Disklavier recordings to audio, complete with accurate rendering of incremental sustain pedal data.

Disklavier recordings are available on request for study purposes and use in concert.

Dr.-Mario-Ajero-LectureThe archive is also collecting video-synchronized, mini lecture/performances, the first of which was produced by Dr. Mario Ajero, Professor of Piano at the Stephen F. Austin State University. Dr. Ajero discusses and performs Joplin’s Great Crush Collision March. This work was published in 1896 and was inspired by a carefully produced train wreck that had been arranged as public entertainment by an employee (William Crush) of the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad.

Dr. Ajero’s performance includes images from the event and a discussion of its fascinating history.

Academic institutions are encouraged to submit recordings and to join the online celebration with their own Joplin concerts this year and next. The first participating university concert took place on October 30 of this year at Boston University, using the institution’s Disklavier PRO. The performers included: Victor Cayres, Haeshin Shin, Joshua Rifkin, Gila Goldstein, William Ward, Jan Tao Yu, and Konstantinos Papadakis. Joshua Rifkin, of course, is well known for his legendary Joplin recordings in the 1970s that fueled the Joplin revival that began in that decade.

For more information about the Joplin Online Centennial and the opportunities to take advantage of the Disklavier archive, please visit the Scott Joplin Online Centennial (scottjoplinarchive.org).
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