I've been working hard on the Calliope Rag. Here is me trying to play it all in one take, tempo problems, stumbling fingers and and me briefly forgetting the next note all included.

(non working file attachment removed..see posts below for audio link) but I have added an audio player for you


CALLIOPE RAG played by David Caron

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You are a lot braver than I!  I bet you could sail through pieces like "Darkie's Dream/ Awakening" or the old "Funeral March of an Old Jaw Bone."

Sounding good.  I agree, that terrible metronome will eventually become a friend.

I'm not familiar with the first piece, but I have given the Funeral March a try after seeing a performance of it on Youtube, by yourself and Carl Anderton. I really like that one too.

"Darkies Dream" by George Lansing was possibly the biggest selling solo in classic banjo history (at least in the US).  It was recorded by Vess Ossman and Fred Van Eps many times, as well as lots of other players.  There are a lot of recordings posted on youtube. You might be able to find modern videos by substituting the word "Darkies" to "Lansing."

"Darkies Awakening" by Lansing was nearly as popular if not as popular of a solo. 

Both are easy enough to be approachable while being difficult enough to not be boring.

I found the Awakening in the musical library here, but I can't find the dream.


david caron said:

I found the Awakening in the musical library here, but I can't find the dream.


So I haven’t posted here for a while, but given the topic, I thought I’d offer some interesting (but rather lengthy — sorry) details about the composition of “Calliope Rag,” given that it’s happily become something of a classic banjo standard over the past few decades. (And great playing, David; I really enjoyed your recording.)

Though normally just attributed to James Scott, the piece is almost certainly mostly “Ragtime Bob” Darch’s composition, only the first section possibly being based on a melodic sketch by Scott. As a teenager interested in ragtime, I got to know Bob Darch and even to occasionally play his breaks whenever he passed through my hometown of Omaha, he always happy to encourage the promulgation of and interest in a music to which he’d devoted his life, going out of his way to secure re-recognition and remembrance of the music’s surviving composers and performers — most of them African-American — before racial integration was a part of the national discourse. He also loved a good story. (Google “Scott Joplin’s Dream Darch” for an example. As well, Darch sometimes claimed to have a copy of “Guest of Honor,” Joplin’s lost opera, though after Darch’s death, no copy surfaced.) This said, he was a great friend and inspiration, and he knew and cared more about ragtime — and could play some of the more obscure, complex pieces — than most of his generation.

I attach here some June to November 1999 informal but public correspondence from the old ragtime newsgroup between Ed Berlin, immaculate ragtime researcher and Scott Joplin’s impeccable biographer, MIDI specialist Warren Trachtman and pianist Bill Edwards. Besides capturing Darch’s folksy and engaging tone (I’ve never been able to think of a Spencerian dip pen as anything other than a “toad stabber” after this) it clarifies a lot.

The best part of all of this story is that Calliope Rag is actually good. It’s even sort of happy-sad in the best ragtime way, and though with the qualified exception of the A melody it’s not really Scott’s composition, it stands as a monument to Darch’s affection (and, apparently, Haven Gillespie’s) for the music and its composers. Of course, Scott’s incandescent legacy is secure with or without Calliope as part, or even partial part, of his oeuvre.

— Chris W.


About a month ago, there was some discussion on the newsgroup about Calliope
Rag. Some interesting speculation was tossed around, including some theories
as to why that rag may indeed have been a James Scott composition yet still
sound different from his other compositions (written for calliope versus
piano, etc).

While in Sedalia for the Joplin festival, Bob Darch was one of the few folks
remaining at the headquarters hotel on Sunday afternoon. I don't recall just
how the subject came up, but Ed Berlin and I took the opportunity to go
downstairs from the afterhours piano room where we hangers-on were conversing,
and ask Bob Darch directly just what the real story was regarding that piece.

I am not making any judgements, pro or con, regarding the following, but
merely wish to pass it along as an item of interest.
As related to us directly by Bob Darch, the story is as follows:

While visiting one of James Scott's relatives (one of his sisters, I think he
said), Bob had been shown a (spiral-bound) notebook presumed to belong to
James Scott wherein the right-hand, A-section theme, and the title "Calliope
Rag" were written. Bob hand-copied the A-section theme (this was before the
age of convenient photocopiers) from the notebook. He then filled-in the left
hand part for the A-section, and wrote the remaining sections of the piece to
complete it.
So, as per the conversation with Bob Darch on June 6, 1999, the only material
in Calliope Rag which he is claiming to have been of direct James Scott
composition is the theme for the A-section.

I'm quite sure that Ed Berlin will subsequently have more details and fact
cross-checking to pass along which will help to further clarify and expand
upon the genesis of this composition.

In the meantime, perhaps those of you who were interested in the pedigree of
this rag may want to take another look at the piece with the perspective of
this input from Bob Darch.


Warren Trachtman

Perhaps Warren remembers it more clearly than I (I had had a few drinks
by then, though was still far behind Darch), but I don't recall Darch
specifying "spiral-bound notebook". My interest was focussed on the
relative contributions of Scott & Darch. I had long doubted that it was
a Scott work, agreed with the editors of the Smithsonian edition, and
was pleased to hear Darch say that he was responsible for most of it. I
remember vaguely reading something about this some years ago, but would
have to research to find the original statement.

In answer to one of Warren's posted questions: Bob spoke on this issue
in response to my question. Bob also said that the truncated (8-m.) C
strain was based on an idea given to him by Haven Gillespie.

Ed Berlin

My main interest was also in hearing the nature of the attributed
original material to the added material. That was also the primary
information I intended to convey in my summary of the discussion.

I specifically put the "spiral bound" phrase in parenthesis since
I am not sure about that myself, and don't really think it merits
the focus it is receiving in the current newsgroup discussion.

Bob Darch, in relating the story, made some comments about the
notebook, but the description was a bit unclear to me at the time.
It seemed to me that the description was close to that of a spiral bound
notebook, but since I believed he may have intended something
different, I made the reference parenthetical in my paraphrase
of his explanation. I do specifically recall him indicating some
sort of binding (i.e. not loose-leaf as Paul Wilson suggested). It
did not seem to me worth worrying about too much, since it was not the
main item of concern. This was, after all, just a conversation,
not a 60 minutes interview.

I also recall that he indicated there was a third person present
when he saw the notebook and copied the theme. It was a woman,
who's name was unfamiliar to me at the time, and which I don't
recall, but a name which Ed Berlin may recall.

Bob Darch did seem quite open and willing, even enthusiastic, to
talk about the piece, so I'm sure if somebody wanted to ask him
about it again, as Bill suggests, I would expect you would not
have any difficulty in that respect. You could certainly take
more detailed notes, and ask more questions about the notebook
(including the more important issue of why it was presumed to
be James Scott's notebook in the first place)
and many other issues, rather than relying on the
memory of a casual conversation, as I was doing when I wrote my post.


Warren Trachtman

The woman Darch mentioned is Helen Wallace. I called her a few days
before the "update" began, and today received Helen's written response:

"I have consulted with Smiley [Helen's husband], and this is our memory
of Calliope Rag:

"We [Helen, Smiley, Bob and Peggy Darch] were in Carthage, Missouri,
when a woman approached Bob and told him she was the great niece of
James Scott. She had two or three sheets of tattered paper with some
music written on them. Not a complete score, but ust a phrase or two on
each page. It wasn't much. Bob paid her for the sheets, took them
home, and they were the basis of Calliope Rag.

"All this took place over forty years ago. Details are lost in the
mists of time. To us, it was just someone with old music for Bob. We
didn't realize it would evolved into Calliope Rag."

Hmm. Interesting. In this case, there is no notebook, spiral or bound;
and Bob did not copy the music, but received Scott's manuscript (which
is now . . . where?). I'll run this by Bob & see how he responds.

Ed Berlin

11/23 It's been a while, but Bob Darch has responded to my request for his recall of Calliope Rag. Here it is, in his words.

Ed Berlin


Nov 11, 1999
We, my then wife and I, plus the David Wallaces [Smiley & Alice] spent most weekends on field trips, whether searching for wild sassafras bark or sheet music of the ragtime era. Having been informed one night at the club [Mickey Mantle's Holiday Inn, where Bob was playing piano] that living relatives of Jimmy Scott lived in Carthage, the next weekend we went there. Since I had the approx. address and her name (Bessie Anna Geneva Scott Farris), neighbors told us the house she lived in (no numbers). We stopped and went to the door where I introduced myself. We stood on the porch and I asked her about any J. S. music she might have. Then her daughter appeared on the scene and listened in on our conversation. Bessie said she didn't have any music of his so I bid her goodbye and started to leave. Before I got to the car, however, the daughter came running out with five or six manuscript pages of music (single notes/treble clef). She (the daughter) said it was his music. It was ink (toad stabber) over pencil. The paper was once in a cloth & paste type binder, or so it appeared. (The paper was approx. 9"x10" and course.) She wanted money to lend it to me, which I gave her ($15.00) and promised to return it. After copying the music (single notes -- treble clef) and the word Calliope Rag. The following Tuesday I returned the music. (No rebate, by the way, but I didn't care.) I hand copied it since xerox in those days rubbed off easily. I then fleshed it out with an assist from Haven Gillespie as editor.
"Ragtime Bob" Darch

11/23 Thank you very much for posting this information Ed. I will update my text on the piece appropriately, giving you credit for digging it up. This still leaves a void as to how much of the melody line printed in TAPR was composed by Scott and how much by Darch and/or Gillespe.

Obviously the chording and left hand bass were done by them, but did Scott leave any chord designations on the sheet, and was he responsible for just A or A and B? Judging by the number of pages, it sounds like Scott composed more of the melody line than we had recently ascertained. However, it does not mean that all six pages were the same piece (although it sounds like they were from the description) or that Darch and Gillespe used all that was written. The fact that there is no modulation into the C section leaves some doubt about that part being Scott, but then again, that may be how he notated his pieces. I have heard of a few ragtime musicians, some contemporary, who could not notate in complex key signatures, so they wrote in C or F. Then there are cases like Irving Berlin who had to have special transposing pianos built because he could not play in all but selected keys (purportedly F#/Gb was his best). But I think, based on reading material by you and others, that Scott knew quite a bit more than just the basics about notation even as early as 1904.

If more than just the A section of Calliope was composed by Scott, albeit the melody, it once again raises the question about inclusion of the piece into Scott collections, or mentions of Scott pieces. It is mentioned in Rags and Ragtime, but was not included in the Complete Works printed a few years back, and was intentionally excluded according the editor. But then again, this is likely making a big deal about a largely insignificant, although cute composition.

Once again, thanks for the additional clarification. We may never know the entire story, but this fills in more pieces. Bravo.

Bill Edwards

11/23 Everything we've been told, by Darch & by Helen Wallace, is based on 40-yr-old memories. There's no point in trying to dig further for memories that are no longer there. However, Bob indicated right from the beginning (Warren Tractman's posting Calliope Rag - Update, 12 Jun 1999) that only the A section is Scott's. The B section is Darch's, and the C section was by Bob & Haven Gillespie.
Since Bob says nothing about chords, we must accept that they were not present. Scott's music reveals him as a sophisticated musician, and this appraisal is supported by what we know of his life.

Ed Berlin

Thanks so much for posting this, Chris. One thing puzzles me and that is the speculation about the chords to the first part of the tune. What else could they possibly be besides the chord that are usually used?  The melody pretty much "spells" the chords.

Reading about Darch online one might get the impression that Calliope Rag could be 100% Darch with the added story that turns it into a genuine authentic ragtime composition by James Scott.

Where does that leave it re copyright?

Hi Jody,

Beats me, though in ragtime circles where in the finest compositions such as Scott’s (and Joplin’s, Lamb’s and Arthur Marshall’s) the “left hand” can carry countermelodies and carefully constructed chords or surprising turns of phrase/emotion, it can really mean something. I think Edwards was also referring to the third section not modulating to a different key, as ragtime (and marches) frequently do. But I dunno!


Hi Joel,

Well, I’ve always sort of wondered that myself. Though again, Bob was a good friend who truly loved the music and deeply respected the composers — which is why it seemed odd whenever he appeared to veer into embellishment. Though given the apparent corroboration of Helen Wallace in this case, who knows. Regardless, it’s a nice piece that coincidentally lands on the banjo comfortably, though including it as part of the Scott canon is maybe pressing things a little.

I sure wouldn’t worry about copyright, though. How many people are reading this?


Courtesy of the late Trebor Tichenor, here’s a 1959 photograph of Darch onstage in Sedalia (in full 1950s ragtime regalia — “Chicken Inspector?!”) with, rather amazingly, an elderly and dignified Arthur Marshall, Scott Joplin’s collaborator and friend. Darch interviewed Marshall by asking some basic questions, with Marshall then playing through the first movement of “Century Prize,” though he was in poor health and could only manage performing the one section, sadly embarrassed that he could no longer play like he once could.

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