The Entertainer

by Scott Joplin

There is no better way to learn about this music than to listen to it, so we will spend much of this discussion on that aspect. To help you let your students experience this music, we have included an instrumental arrangement of Joplin's popular "The Entertainer" on the cassette for this issue. (See page 49 for more details.) Here are some listening activities:

Listen to the recording concentrating on form, instrumentation, tempo, dynamics and style. To contrast the style, also listen to portions of Sousa marches and even maybe some later styles of jazz, including dixieland and swing. Instrumentation for this recording is two trumpets, clarinet, piccolo, two violins, trombone, tuba, acoustic guitar, piano and drums (snare and bass). This is similar to the actual instrumentation published for some of Joplin's rags at the time, though they were played by every sort of group from solo piano to large mandolin orchestra.
Discuss and listen to the syncopations if you have not already done so with your students. A simple one would be eighth - quarter - eighth against a steady quarter note beat. For other common ragtime figures, dissect the opening phrase of "The Entertainer."
Create a listening map and/or have your students create their own individually or in groups. To help you with this task, we have given you a sheet of reproducibles on the next page including titles, symbols, solo instruments and 'ensemble' graphics. Make a couple of nice dark masters, then duplicate several copies for each student or group to use.
There are no rules, but you can use these images to create listening maps of varying detail. For instance, you might start with a large sheet of paper, and chart the arrangement bar for bar, showing solo versus ensemble, passing dynamics, formal sections, etc. The arrangement is in 2/4, with this form: Intro A A B B A. The Intro is 4 bars long, and all other sections are 16 bars in length. You may also just want to show very general flow without marking exact occurrences by the measure.
Note that the 'A' sections are virtually identical, so the first two can be stated as repeats. They alternate between a solo clarinet and the full ensemble. The first 'B' section is mostly ensemble, with short solos by the clarinet. The second 'B' section is for solo piccolo with only piano and tuba accompanying the solo. The final 'A' section is like the first ones. You may wish to illustrate the "stinger," the accented single note at the end of the Intro and at the end of the arrangement.
Listen to some other rags by Joplin and maybe other composers. One of the best recordings is the Red Back Book, recorded by The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble under Gunther Schuller. On the Angel label, it is out on CD, tape, and can probably still be found used on LP. Joshua Rifkin's piano performances are nice, as are some of the recordings of the old piano rolls, though the very last ones made by Joplin himself are sad in that he was already deteriorating physically.
Other popular rags to listen to would include "The Easy Winners," "Solace," and of course, "Maple Leaf Rag."
Discuss the fact that while some ragtime players improvised their work, "classical rags" like Joplin's were written down and meant to be played as written. And if our recording of "The Entertainer" feels a bit slow, that's the way that Joplin specified it.
Look at some of the sheet music from the era. It can be purchased reasonably or perhaps borrowed from local antique and book dealers. You may also find it in good local libraries. Or to really bring it home, ask your students to see if older relatives have some available. You could also capture the feel of the era with old Victrolas and/or piano rolls.
For more mature classes, and possibly tied to ongoing AIDS education in your school, you may want to discuss the fact that Joplin's life was cut short by the scourge of that time, syphilis. As is often the case with AIDS, Joplin's disease was probably not caused by his own actions. He was probably born with it.

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.