Formed in 2013, the Allegheny City Ragtime Orchestra takes its name from Allegheny City, known today as Pittsburgh’s North Side. The orchestra is dedicated to restoring the lost history of the ragtime era in Pittsburgh. The ensemble will perform recently rediscovered compositions by Pittsburgh composers from the turn of the 20th century. These works have not been heard in almost 100 years. In addition, the ACRO will perform Latin American-inspired pieces by composers from Harlem’s Clef Club, an African-American musical organization formed by James Reese Europe in the 1910s. The concert will also feature compositions by composers from Latin American countries who were inspired by American Ragtime music.
Resilient is one word often used to describe the spirit of our nation and its citizens. One can easily reflect back upon the many tragedies this nation has endured and marvel at what ‘will’ and ‘true grit’ can overcome. “The First Shot” is a common theme, whether it happened at Lexington, Fort Sumter, Pearl Harbor or New York City on 9/11.
American challenges also have come in the form of economic crashes, panics and depressions.
In times of crisis, one of ways the spirit of the nation has been lifted is through music. Often, a uniquely American form of music has arisen at these times to get people excited about their cause, lift their spirits and simply help them forget about the worries of the day. In other words, it created a passion, sometimes described as a “craze that swept the land.” In the same fashion that America exported goods around the world, some of these musical forms swept the globe. Think jazz, think big bands and in case you were not aware—think Ragtime! Yes, Ragtime, that bouncy, toe-tapping, American syncopated music and dance form that crossed oceans was an earlier musical version of “Don’t worry, be happy!”
Back in 1893, our country suffered a “bust” or depression brought on by overbuilding and the shaky financing of railroads. It lasted a few years, much like what we are experiencing today after the market crash of 2008. Music, specifically Ragtime, took America by storm. Its main characteristic trait is a “ragged” rhythm. Before being published as popular sheet music for piano, it began as dance music in the red-light districts of African-American communities in St. Louis and New Orleans. We readily think of Scott Joplin and his popular hits like the Maple Leaf Rag, but it is Ernest Hogan, a key pioneer in developing the genre, who is credited with coining the term Ragtime. Ragtime was also a modification of the march made popular by John Philip Sousa, incorporating additional polyrhythms coming from African music. In our time, the motion picture The Sting brought ragtime to a wide audience with its soundtrack of Joplin tunes.
More surprising may be that Western Pennsylvania has produced notable composers and performers of this style! Tom Roberts, originally from Pittsburgh and recognized as one of the leading authorities on ragtime, stride and early jazz piano in the world, has discovered ragtime compositions by Pittsburgh composers from the turn of the twentieth century… works that have not been heard in almost 100 years. Our great fortune is that Tom Roberts, one of the most influential and accomplished pianists of our time, will be bringing the nine-piece Allegheny City Ragtime Orchestra (ACRO) to Lincoln Hall in Foxburg on Saturday, April 12 at 7:00 PM to charm and uplift our spirits with this infectiously joyous music.
Formed in 2013 under the direction of renowned pianist and historian, Tom Roberts, the Allegheny City Ragtime Orchestra (ACRO) takes its name from Allegheny City, now known as Pittsburgh’s North Side. Allegheny City was the beautiful burgh that was home to Stephen Foster, Andrew Carnegie, and Gertrude Stein; it was later seized by Pittsburgh in 1907. The nine piece ensemble is comprised of symphonic musicians from the Pittsburgh area who are dedicated to restoring the lost history of the ragtime era in Pittsburgh. The Allegheny City Ragtime Orchesrtra will perform recently rediscovered compositions by Pittsburgh composers from the turn of the 20th century. The concert also will feature compositions by composers from Latin American countries who were inspired by American Ragtime music.
Tom Roberts is one of the leading exponents of early jazz piano in the world today. He has performed on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. He was the featured pianist at the International Stride Piano Summit in Zurich, Switzerland, 2001 and 2009. Tom was the pianist for Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks in New York City (recent Grammy winners for the soundtrack to Boardwalk Empire) and the pianist and musical director for Leon Redbone for six years.
Tom has performed twice at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2003, once with Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops. He was featured in 2003 in solo with Dick Hyman at the prestigious Jazz In July series at New York’s 92nd St. Y. Tom has performed multiple times at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival including a solo performance at The Professor Longhair Society’s Piano Night At Tipitina’s. He has performed throughout Europe as a member of multiple ensembles from New Orleans and as a member of The Ortner Roberts Duo.
Roberts has arranged and performed music for the soundtrack of the Martin Scorcese film The Aviator; for the syndicated PRI show Riverwalk Jazz, Live from the Landing with the Jim Cullum Jazz Band; and a number of pieces for Wynton Marsalis and The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Recently he has composed new musical scores for the Charlie Chaplin films One A.M. and The Rink through a commission from The Pittsburgh Symphony.
Tickets to the Allegheny City Ragtime Orchestra on Saturday, April 12 at 7:00 PM are $25, Members $20 and Students $10. To reserve tickets, call 724 659-3153.
Lift your spirits, feel those “ragged” rhythms and leave Lincoln Hall with a spring in your step by attending this first-of-a-kind event that has received rave reviews everywhere it has been performed. What could be more American Apple Pie than that!?