Sunday, April 18, 2010

How to describe ragtime piano to deaf people?

There are certain music I believe that most deaf people, especially those born with a hearing loss or lose it early in life, do not even know it exist or even care for it. One of that music is ragtime. I genre of music that I've come to know and enjoy immensely.

What is ragtime anyway? According to Scott Joplin, the "King of Ragtime," he aptly described ragtime music as "weird and intoxicating" when played right. Yeah, but that doesn't describe it does it? In ragtime on a piano it is the (melodic) syncopation of the right hand with the accented bass movement of the left hand. Chords do not define ragtime but the syncopated style that makes ragtime music recognizable. Which is why it's called "ragged time." Confused? Ok. The bare bones description. On the piano it combines the left hand bass movements (the "oom-pah oom-pah" feel to it) with the deep bass notes that you can actually feel the vibration. The right hand movements play the syncopated movements that produces the melody with an off-beat sound to it. This is mostly the higher notes which is harder to feel and detect its vibrations. With that combination of sound it gives that particular "weird and intoxicating" flavor of music to it.

It's hard to describe to a deaf person on why ragtime is so enjoyable and pleasing to listen to just as it's hard to describe to a blind person why a particular painting is so wonderful and pleasing to look at. Descriptions can only go so far. Other senses must be used help fill in this gap.

First, if you have a good set of speakers for your computer (or to an even larger, stronger external set of speakers) let's go to John Roache's website where he describes what ragtime is all about and a chance for you to feel (and perhaps hear) what it "sounds" like. John Roache is able to break it down into separate, identifiable music and when combined makes it into a ragtime music. In this case, he uses the familiar tune of "Mary had a little lamb" and turns that into a ragtime example.

All I can say is that as with jazz, stride piano, novelty piano, or even ragtime piano, one has to appreciate the musical qualities behind them in order to truly enjoy these genre periods. I don't expect Deaf people to understand why I enjoy and play ragtime piano except that I find it "weird and intoxicating" whenever I play it. It's a musical art that keeps on giving.

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