Thumbs up

I’m delighted to report that my wife Marilyn Nonken‘s album of music by Scott Joplin and his collaborators, Syncopated Musings from Divine Art, is beginning to garner attention, and not just because I wrote the album notes. (Marilyn will be playing some of these rags — along with a few surprises — in June at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, MO. A few years ago I wrote about the peculiar role of Sedalia and Hannibal in American culture.)

Joplin biographer and ragtime authority Edward A. Berlin‘s review appears in the new issue of Syncopated Times, and he’s got nothing but good things to say. Quoth Mr. Berlin:

Classical artists may differentiate and personalize their performances with subtleties, highlighting features that might otherwise go unnoticed, using touch and dynamics to separate distinctive lines and to adjust expressiveness. Nonken follows these principles and excels in their execution; her playing is always ultra clean, precise, and well considered. …

Most classical pianists whose Joplin performances I’ve heard play [“Stoptime Rag”] slightly percussively; Nonken plays it generally legato, and in the final strain presents an even smoother legato that’s both unexpected and delicious. …

Not all classical pianists who perform Joplin’s music produce a satisfactory result. I’ve heard recordings and live performances in which the pianist, taking to an extreme Joplin’s caution against playing ragtime fast, ignore its dance music function and adopt a dirge-like tempo that destroys its toe-tapping nature. Others play it with the bombast of a late Romantic piano concerto, a course that overwhelms the music. Nonken joins the group of classicists who understand the character of ragtime and have the skill and temperament to enhance it in performance. I expect that Joplin would have been thrilled to hear Nonken play his music; I know that I am.

I’m not sure you can get much better than that. Berlin’s lengthy review, which also considers the provenance and performance practice of this music through the years, can be found here.

Below, a taste of the album (available on all major streaming platforms and on CD from Amazon) with Marilyn’s performance of the lovely “Reflection Rag”:

A toast to … Scott Joplin

The Scott Joplin memorial near his grave at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Queens, NY.

Today marks the anniversary of Scott Joplin’s death, who left us on this date in 1917. Although he himself is dead, his music etc. etc. You know how it goes.

This may be a good time to remind you that Marilyn Nonken‘s fine album of music by Joplin and his collaborators, Syncopated Musings, is now available on CD and on your better music streaming services everywhere. Marilyn will also be celebrating the careers of Joplin and his friends at this year’s Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, to be held in Sedalia, MO, this June. At the festival, she’ll be urging the ragtime form into the future, performing new rags by women composers commissioned especially for performance at the festival. I understand that the theme of this year’s festival is “Women in Ragtime,” so it’s right in keeping with the times.

To brighten up your Friday morning, I offer Marilyn’s performance of “Sensation,” an ebullient Charles Lamb rag “arranged by” Joplin. Marilyn and I will be raising a glass to Scott and his pals at Cafe Katja later today. Cheers!



Reason to celebrate

A few days ago the fine ladies and gentlemen of the United States Postal Service knocked at the door to deliver a large box filled with CDs of Syncopated Musings, the new Scott Joplin album from my lovely wife, Marilyn Nonken. The Divine Art release is scheduled to “drop,” as the kids say, on February 11, but just this morning BBC Radio 3 couldn’t help itself and played “Kismet Rag” from this CD on its morning music program. So they jumped the gun just a bit; that’s fine.

I must say it sounds great. On Tuesday night Marilyn and I lifted our glasses to Marilyn’s esteemed and talented producers Manuel Laufer and Jeffrey Means; recording engineer Paul Geluso; designer Denise Avayou of Avayou Design and photographers Paul Cava and ventiko for the lovely visual presentation (more reason to purchase the CD); and, of course, Stephen Sutton and the gang at Divine Art Recordings.

You can pre-order and purchase the CD or its digital equivalent from Divine Art or Amazon; no doubt it’ll be streaming on one or more of those newfangled internet music doohickeys as well come February 11. And no doubt some domestic radio play will follow.

You can read my liner notes for Syncopated Musings here.



Joplin & Co.

Now available for pre-order, Marilyn Nonken‘s next album, Syncopated Musings: Rags, Concert Waltzes, and Novelties for the Pianoforte by Scott Joplin and His Collaborators, is a collection of less-familiar music by the self-described “King of Ragtime” and several of his friends and colleagues. Divine Art Records will release Syncopated Musings on February 11, 2022, and it’ll be available on both CD and in a variety of downloadable formats.

Yours truly wrote the liner notes. “Why ragtime? Why now?” you may ask. Well, I answer, “Far more than a nostalgic throwback to a ‘simpler’ time … these explorations and the continued excavations of the form confirm ragtime as a soundworld all its own – a soundworld that remains remarkably contemporary.” Allow me to go on:

The early 20th century culture in which this music was composed seems surprisingly similar to the culture of the early 21st. A society tearing itself apart in the effort to navigate tensions created by white responses to the increasingly important roles of Black and immigrant Americans in urban and rural cultures; the threat of health crises like the frequent and devastating yellow fever outbreaks and the Influenza Epidemic of 1918; even the geopolitical consequences of America’s increasingly isolationist and nationalist foreign policies – this was the background to ragtime’s emergence, and it remains the background to 21st century interpretations of this uniquely American music. Those anxieties are ours, demanding our individual responses. Syncopation, perhaps the most obvious quality of ragtime, exploits rhythmic irregularity and imbalance, seeking but never finding final resolution, perhaps an uncanny reflection of our own personal and cultural predicament. They may also be the key to ragtime’s continuing appeal and its imaginative reinterpretation.

Divine Art provides a sample of Syncopated Musings below. You can pre-order the album itself here.

Ragtime break: Sunflower Slow Drag

In the next few weeks you’ll be hearing more here about Syncopated Musings, Marilyn Nonken‘s new album of music by Scott Joplin and his collaborators, now scheduled for release in January of 2022. As a preview, Divine Art Records is providing Marilyn’s performance of Scott Hayden and Scott Joplin’s “Sunflower Slow Drag” on YouTube below. Per the promotional copy:

While Scott Joplin’s ragtime music shot back to popularity in the 1970s, many of his pieces are still relatively unknown and this also applies to pieces in which Joplin collaborated with other musicians. American pianist Marilyn Nonken has a new album in which she takes us on a journey through some of Joplin’s most attractive rags and concert waltzes, including works in which he partnered with Scott Hayden, Arthur Marshall, Charles Lamb, and Louis Chauvin. Syncopated Musings will be available worldwide on February 11, 2022, and direct form Divine Art in early January.

You can read more about it here. In the meantime, sit back and relax to the strains of this 1901 classic.