This year (2009) the Bob Becker Ragtime Xylophone Institute was held from July 27 through August 1. It was our ninth year for this annual event held at the University of Delaware in Newark, DE. The participants, pictured in the photo (left to right) were: Bob, Warren Dewey, Valerie Vassar, Zachary Nandapurkar, Harvey Price, Doug Chin, Will Miller, Mika Noda, and Noam Bierstone. Oberlin graduate and Ragtime Institute alumnus Zachary Crystal also stopped by for a couple of days, along with Jon Singer, of XYLOPHOLKS fame. Harvey Price, director of percussion studies at UDel and our host for the week, was, as always, supportive and inspiring.
As with many summer seminars during this year’s economic downturn, we had a smaller than usual enrolment. This was, in fact, a bonus for the students, who received more individual attention. All of them were also invited to perform extra solos on our final concert. In addition, Harvey Price and I needed to step up and play some of the accompaniment parts in the marimba ensembles, which we both enjoyed doing. Several of the students mentioned that playing next to one of us in an ensemble was more instructive than a private lesson. I know the truth of this from my own experience, and so I plan to do more of it during next summer’s institute (schedule and information to be posted soon). As usual, the full-length (sixteen pieces) concert was well-attended by local music lovers. The students really came through strongly on all of the solos, many of them adding their own variations and improvisations on the spot. This is highly encouraged throughout the session, and is one of the primary teaching aims of our daily classes. As is our tradition, the last piece on the program was a “tag-team” version of Jovial Jasper, with each student taking an improvised chorus in one of the strains. The finale is a group jam on the last chorus, with the bass player – in this case, Harvey – taking the breaks. It’s always a lot of fun, both for the performers and the audience.
A highlight of this year’s institute was a special presentation about the music and family history of George Hamilton Green by percussionist and scholar Dr. Ryan Lewis. Ryan has just assumed the post of Assistant Professor of Percussion at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR. His DMA dissertation, Much More Than Ragtime: The Musical Life of George Hamilton Green, is a monumental (over 600 pages) document, incorporating a great deal of information obtained directly from the Green family archives and scrapbooks. His presentation, which featured many old photos, letters, newspaper clippings, and historical recordings, was both entertaining and educational. George Hamilton Green’s xylophone technique and improvisation styles are, of course, major focal points of this seminar, and Ryan’s information illuminated for us both the man and his music.