“Pig Ankles” Ragtime Music for dulcimer

I find it very sad that our dulcimer society won’t be hosting our annual Lagniappe Dulcimer Festival –either in person or on-line — in March due to concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic and an abundance of caution. Most in-person dulcimer festivals are “on hold” at this time. Restrictions in meetings due to the pandemic have had a particularly hard effect on dulcimer artists and vendors who make a living selling dulcimers, supplies and giving workshops. On-line “Zoom” dulcimer events have helped fill the void, but it just isn’t quite the same as face-to-face meetings. This month, I am featuring “Pig Ankles” — a zippy ragtime tune — with an arrangement from one of the dulcimer vendors who came to the Lagniappe Dulcimer Festival many times. I love Gary Sager’s arrangement of this tune — and could play it for hours. As you learn the tune, it grows on you.

Where do you go to purchase dulcimer supplies such as strings, picks, capos and books during the pandemic? Without dulcimer festivals and vendors selling such merchandise, it is harder to acquire these items. Gary Sager and his wife, Toni, have attended our Lagniappe Dulcimer Festival many times as vendors. They operate “Prussia Valley Dulcimers” in Waverly, Ohio, and have continued their “store” as an on-line during business during the pandemic. Let’s support Gary and Toni’s business as well as all the dulcimer performers and instructors who make a living at their craft. Visit them at http://www.prussiavalley.com/

Rather than in-person dulcimer festivals, it is great to see so many on-line dulcimer festivals such as the QuaranTUNE festival.

What is ragtime music?

Ragtime music was an extremely popular style of piano music which flourished from the mid-1890s to 1917 when jazz music arrived on the scene. Ragtime music is characterized by a very syncopated rhythm and a tendency for the notes to overlap bars which sounds like a missed beat. The left hand — bass notes — are typically played at a regular rhythm and the right hand plays the syncopation. This makes if feel that there is movement and suspense in the music. Ragtime music is not “dance music” but rather intended for an audience. Ragtime music was derived from marches and influenced by banjo picking and burlesque music. The term “ragtime” does not relate to a particular meter, but rather is to a style of playing. In fact, military composer and conductor, John Philip Sousa, modified military marches to the ragtime-style of music.

Regime music originated in the Midwest, especially St. Louis and Missouri. It quickly spread across the country and even to Europe. Americans were first exposed to ragtime music on a large scale at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. It is reported that some 27 million people passed through the Fair gates between May and October of that year.

Printed sheet music rather than recordings was the way that ragtime music was spread. Most of these compositions are now in the public domain. The Library of Congress, as well as several universities, have a large collections of printed ragtime scores which can be downloaded. One enterprising ragtime enthusiast, Ted Tjaden – Canadian lawyer and law librarian, has collected over 180 ragtime tunes with animals on the sheet music cover or names. It is interesting to look at the names of these tunes as well as the scores. http://www.ragtimepiano.ca/rags/animals.htm

Of the numerous ragtime composers, African-American Scott Joplin is probably the best known. His “Maple Leaf Rag” sold over 1 million copies by 1914. Joplin also composed “The Entertainer,” in 1902. Later the tune was made famous in the 1773 Oscar-winning film, “The Sting.” Joplin died at age 48 years in New York City of syphilis and dementia — penniless. He died in 1917 which signaled the end of the popularity of ragtime music as jazz was becoming more popular. Joplin undoubtedly is one of our most talented American composers and musicians. Ragtime music was “rediscovered” in the 1970s and Joplin was awarded posthumously a Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, because of all the chromatic notes in these two ragtime tunes, they are very challenging to play on a diatonic dulcimer.

Pig Ankles Ragtime Tune

I couldn’t find much information on the origins of “Pig Ankles — A Grotesque Intermezzo” — other than it was composed in 1905 by Mamie E Williams, a female composer, and published in Kansas City. It is described as “a group of pigs in dresses and coats.”

Williams received $600 for the song, according to “Ragtime’s Women Composers: An Annotated Lexicon.” (2002) 3 Ragtime Ephemeralist: 106-35.  by Hulse, Nora & Nan Bostick. The authors further state that in the early 1900s, MC Williams worked in the music department of Emery, Bird and Thayer Dry Goods Store of Kansas City, Missouri. She was listed in the city’s directory as a music teacher and musician for parties, weddings, etc on piano and organ. Here is an archived excerpt of this article available from the Internet Archive. https://web.archive.org/web/20100324114155/http:/home.earthlink.net/~ephemeralist/women.html

In the late 1800s it was considered to be a status symbol to have a piano in one’s home and the “lady of the house was expected to know how to play the parlor piano. Department stores kept a music teacher on staff to show how to play the new printed music scores which were the rage at the time. I am surmising that ME Williams came from such a background.

Playing the tune on the dulcimer

This is a fun tune to play on the mountain dulcimer. Here is Gary Sager’s arrangement — used with permission. I suggest playing this tune exactly as Sager tabbed it. The tablature is for the right hand melody, not the left hand bass line. Listen to YouTube recordings of the song to become familiar with it. Ragtime music is full of notes and the timing of the notes is tricky. I use lots of hammer-on’s and pull-off’s. Play measure by measure slowly to memorize it and then get up to speed.

Scott Joplin apparently said that ragtime songs don’t have to be played at an extremely quick tempo — the notes become muddled. He even wrote on the score of “Maple Leaf Rag” — “not too fast.” One source recommends that ragtime music be played at a tempo of 120 beats/minute. A goal to work for!

The pandemic has certainly affected playing the mountain dulcimer in social settings such as our club meetings and dulcimer festivals. We have to find new ways to connect with other dulcimer players. Thank goodness for the internet!

Here is a PDF file to download:

References:

https://www.loc.gov/collections/songs-of-america/articles-and-essays/musical-styles/popular-songs-of-the-day/ragtime/

https://jazz-library.com/articles/is-ragtime-hard-to-play/#:~:text=Most%20ragtime%20is%20around%20120,go%20as%20high%20as%20160!

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