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In 1901 attendees of the National Meeting of the American Federation of Musicians swore “to play no ragtime and to do all in their power to counteract its pernicious influence.” Defenders of “culture” throughout the land spoke out against this “rag-weed of music” in schools and churches and on the campaign trail. Respected music educators, composers and musicians took their stand against the menace, and social commentators filled the pages of national magazines with diatribes, predictions and calls to arms. “Let us take a united stand against the Ragtime Evil,” declared one writer, “Avaunt with ragtime rot! Let us purge America and the Divine Art of Music from this polluting nuisance!”
Yet this wild, infectious, “ragged-time” music seemed to be unmoved by the insults, showed every sign of being completely unstoppable, and was, bluntly, everywhere. Marching bands played it. People danced to it. People sang it. People who were supposed to dislike it secretly tapped their toes to it. Music publishers published it. And as it spread across America and invaded Europe, presidents and kings and emperors and sundry other potentates had to confess, when put to it, that they really rather liked it.
By 1918 ragtime had lost its hold on the popular imagination to jazz, a new type of music, closely related to ragtime and, in the eyes of the self-appointed keepers of public virtue, just as sinister. But in the years of its ascendancy ragtime had witnessed – indeed, had presided over – the passing of an age. When the last guns were silenced in Europe and the boys came back home to America, everything seemed different. The Old Order, The Age of Innocence, The Age of Ragtime had passed, and we were left with an overwhelming sense of awe, insecurity and freedom. Many writers have spoken of this – of the loss of faith, the growing cynicism, the arrival of a brave new world filled with new political beliefs, new values, new truth …and new music.
At the 1998 Oregon Festival of American Music, Rags, Jazz, Blues, and Boogie Woogie, we will explore this wondrous journey through the music that our forefathers and mothers grew to love as they worked out their lives in the new century. Please join us!