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Scott Joplin: Performing The Maple Leaf Rag [Pianola Roll]

Grand Piano

I’d been studying The Maple Leaf Rag all of last year in 2012.

These days, hundreds of pianists have shared their rendition of this beloved Scott Joplin rag on YouTube. And, I shared a short version of the Maple Leaf Rag as well over here in a post.

The Maple Leaf Rag is a tough piece. And now that I know how to play the piece by-heart, without reading, it’s now a matter of how to interpret it. And, getting to the holy grail of what a pianist considers the appropriate way to play it.

I think now, it’s really uncertain, as you can play the video above and witness for yourself just how Scott Joplin, the composer, performed his one piece as recorded on a Pianola Roll.

As you can hear, he swings it instead of playing it straight as written. And, you can hear lots of “embellishments” that go beyond the original written notation, leading one to believe that he ended up improvising and doing variations of his own work.

Joshua Rifkin’s Interpretation

As you can hear, Joshua Rifkin’s rendition is played straight, and a bit slower. And I have been told this is the classic interpretation of this piece.

Surely enough, it was Joshua Rifkin’s revitalisation of Scott Joplin’s works that brought his music back into the spotlight and led to the use of his music in the movie, The Sting.

Rod Miller’s Interpretation

Rod Miller, the famous Disneyland ragtime pianist who played many popular ragtime piano pieces at ultra-fast tempos (that were quite mind boggling) plays The Maple Leaf Rag at “light-speed” compared to the other two performances.

While it’s amazing that Rod Miller can play such a complicated, highly syncopated piece at such a fast tempo, Scott Joplin’s rags were not meant to be played that fast. As a matter of fact, basically all of his pieces have a note that specifically says not to play the rag too fast.

But, Rod Miller’s “adaptation” is very exciting to listen to and is quite amazing in and of itself.

My Quickie Version

Anyway, here’s my short version of The Maple Leaf Rag, to compare with all the others, and I will try to post my own complete interpretation of The Maple Leaf Rag soon.

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Randomguru is a musician and blogger living in San Diego.

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