5 Days of Scott Joplin: Day 1, Maple Leaf Rag & a Scott Joplin Story

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Scott Joplin painting by Don Locke

This week, we begin an adventure of learning about our first featured musician from the United States of America: Scott Joplin.

Known as the King of Ragtime, Scott Joplin keeps with our trend as a composer who wrote a whole lot of music in a short amount of time.

Much of Scott Joplin’s music was written and published within just a 10 year span. And, in this time, he wrote over 100 pieces, including one ballet and two operas.

What stands out most to me about Scott Joplin, however, is how much he was influenced and inspired by his teacher and how much he in turn influenced and inspired his students.

As last week was National Teacher Appreciation Week, I began thinking about all the teachers who have truly influenced and inspired me and I hope that I am doing the same for all of my students.

Here is Scott Joplin’s story:

The Student Becomes the Teacher, a Scott Joplin Story

As a boy, Scott Joplin was very passionate about the piano. Though his family was not wealthy, they did everything they could to ensure he received a great musical education.

Young Scott had many teachers. His dad and mom were also musicians and taught him some, too. But, his favorite teacher was Julius Weiss.

Mr. Weiss was an immigrant from Germany and was known as a “professor of music” in Scott Joplin’s town. Though Mr. Weiss taught mostly wealthy students, he took an interest in Scott after hearing him play the piano at a young age. He taught Scott from age 11 until he was 16.

Prior to studying with Julius Weiss, most of Scott Joplin’s teachers only taught him the basics. Mr. Weiss introduced him to the music of the greatest musicians of the world and taught Scott Joplin about a wide variety of music. He played for him classical music, polka music, ballet, opera, and more.

It is believed that Julius Weiss really helped Scott Joplin to have a true appreciation for music, both as a form of art and as entertainment. And, a lot of the styles of music Julius Weiss introduced to Scott Joplin are found in Joplin’s music.

Even after receiving fame as a composer, Scott Joplin never forgot Julius Weiss. He sent him many gifts and was continuously inspired both to learn more and to teach. Joplin began teaching at the age of 16 and became a student himself again over a decade later, studying advanced harmony and composition at a university.

There were two students in particular that Scott Joplin was very fond of. Arthur Marshall was the son of a family that Joplin lived with for a time and Scott Hayden was a classmate of Marshall’s. Joplin not only taught both of these boys, but collaborated with them on several published works and helped the kick off their careers as ragtime musicians.

Scott Joplin and his students were like family. They were so close, they even lived all together in Joplin’s house with their wives and children for a few years.

The value that Scott Joplin put on education played a huge role in his life and in his compositions. Ragtime music simply would not have been the same if Scott Joplin had not bothered to learn from his teachers or become a teacher himself.

Song of the Day

“Maple Leaf Rag”

This is Scott Joplin’s first published work and the most successful of his lifetime. This piece alone gave Joplin a steady income for his entire life.

It is believed to be written about one of the first clubs he performed his music in or, perhaps, the town where the club was located.

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