Ragtime Music from Above the Garage Productions

Sunday, August 30, 1998 - Maple Leaf Rag (or, Persistence pays off)


This is the Maple Leaf Rag played live by me.

Maple Leaf Rag is by Scott Joplin and is the first piece of sheet music that sold over a million copies in the United States. This would be around the turn of the last century. The primary source of entertainment in the early 1900s was the piano. I learned how to play piano from a 1910 Aeolian Grand Upright Piano that I purchased with help from my Mom for $450.00. I restored it to reasonably good condition with help from my friend and neighbor Mr. Woodworth, who owned a piano store in Santa Ana and helped me order parts and get information on how to do it. The player piano project occupied most of my life from age sixteen until I graduated from high school a couple of years later.

I still can't read music very well (hardly at all, actually), but I can sound things out pretty fast. I learned by slowing down the piano and then placing my hands on the keys and memorizing.

The way I knew which notes to play was by going to Disneyland every weekend for two years and watching Rod Miller, the Pianist at Main Street's Coke Corner play. I'd watch Rod for about six hours with my friend Paul Clatworthy and then go home and practice for about four hours on the weekend. During the week I practiced two hours a night.

It drove my parents batty.

It took my eight months to learn the first two parts of that piece, and then about six more I think to learn the second two parts.

It was the first piece I learned all the way through.

July 4, 2000 - Updated

During E3 in Los Angeles, I had an opportunity to go to Disneyland and see Rod play. I hadn't seen him play for five years. Rod has an album now that's really great. He's also started doing something called "Four Hand Piano" where he plays awesome duets with his protege Alan Thompson. I highly recommend both albums if you like ragtime at all. (Also check out FourHandPiano.com and Stan Long's Four Hand Piano fan site. And here's a really charming site all about Rod: Rebekah Moseley's Rod Miller page.)

Watching these two guys play really inspired me to start practicing again... so I did! The version of Maple Leaf Rag above was made after I spent a few weeks practicing. At first, I was going to cheat, by recording MIDI into a sequencer and then cutting together the best takes. Note this isn't the same as editing out individual notes. Instead, I would play the first part a few times through, then the second part, and so on, and then edit together the best takes. Just so you know, real orchestras do this kind of thing when they make albums. And certainly movie soundtracks are done this way (not with MIDI, but with audio editing). It didn't seem like such a cheat. But it turns out that it's harder to edit this stuff together than I thought. As I kept trying things and practicing, it eventually became better just to play it all the way through until I got a good take. So that's what's posted now. The mp3 file above is a good representation of how I really play. I owe it all to Rod - without his inspiration and help I never would have learned to play the piano.

BTW, I play Maple Leaf Rag in G instead of Ab. Somehow I obtained some sheet music in 1975 that was printed in G; and the piano roll I had, played by J. Lawrence Cook, was also in G. And Rod played Maple Leaf in G. So there you go - I play Maple Leaf Rag in G.

And… here is the MIDI file of the performance if you're curious. The quality of what you hear is hugely dependent on the quality of your sound card.

What’s sweet is that my phone can play MIDI files reasonably well, so now my own performance of the Maple Leaf Rag is my phone tone.  Cool!

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