Ragtime aficionados from near and far came to hear the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra play a tribute to Scott Joplin and chow down on some BBQ at St. Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst on Saturday.
The orchestra, conducted by Rick Benjamin, performed Joplin’s famous piece “The Entertainer,” along with many other classics and favorites near the composer’s final resting place.
The event, free to the public, also served as a school supply drive at the suggestion of City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria). While Constantinides did not plan on beginning the drive until summer, he said that Cemetery Director Ed Horn insisted on starting sooner.
“We want to make sure that come September, we have enough supplies,” Constantinides said. “We’ve seen the onus shift from the Board of Education to the individual students, and we want to make sure our community does its part to supply those in need.”
Attendees were happy to give.
William Silva, who came from Astoria to enjoy the food and weather, also donated notebooks and crayons.
“It’s a great idea,” Silva said. “There are always people in need and a lot of us have a few extra dollars we could use for something like that.”
The orchestra played pieces from various periods in Joplin’s life, and pianist Philipp Petkov of the Long Island Conservancy played a few songs, including “Solace.”
Carl Shankweiler drove more than 150 miles from Valley View, Pa. for the second year in a row because he considers the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra “very significant” and Ed Berlin, author of “King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era,” who spoke at the event, to be the foremost expert on Scott Joplin.
Meanwhile, John Mathew has traveled from Boston and Philadelphia since 2007 to hear the orchestra and visit Joplin’s grave site. Mathew said he got into ragtime in India, where he is from, and now seeks out shows all over the country.
Mathew called Joplin a “multi-faceted artist” because he played several instruments and composed music for all kinds of orchestral bands and ensembles.
Pat Lamb, the daughter of Joseph Lamb, a famous American ragtime composer, enjoyed the music and was glad that others were getting a chance to hear it. She said that even while she was growing up, hearing it all the time at home, many of her friends did not know what ragtime was — and today even fewer do.
“It’s very infectious,” Lamb said. “You can’t not like it.” The orchestra played one of her father’s pieces during the second half.
Celeste Beatty spoke about learning from Berlin that members of her family traveled and worked with Joplin.
She possessed train tickets and other memorabilia that she plans to share with the archives at a university.
The Jamaica resident brews beer at the Harlem Brewing Company and provided for the event Sugar Hill Golden Ale, a beer inspired by the journal entries of her ancestors who were often unable to buy food as they traveled through segregated America, so they had to make their own food and brew their own beer.