Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend the Rangeley Friends of the Arts sponsored July 18th concert by Sean Fleming and his Damariscotta-based “Dam Rag Scotta Orchestra” left the RFA Lakeside Theater with, at the very least, a new appreciation for all of the many melodic intricacies and rhythmic varieties of the music genre commonly referred to by the generic term “ragtime.”
Lead by the virtuoso pianist and conductor Fleming, whose keyboard pyrotechnics were nothing short of miraculous, the other nine members of the ensemble also displayed a consistently high level of skill. Their ability to follow Fleming’s lead as he conjured up the range of nuanced approaches needed to evoke the particular feel and flavor of the program’s varied selections was indeed impressive.
From the more familiar and expected selections by Scott Joplin (e.g. “Easy Winners,” “Maple Leaf Rag,” and “The Entertainer” made popular in the movie score for “The Sting”) to Ferdinand Morton’s “Jelly Roll Blues,” to an intriguing and unexpected encore by contemporary Maine composer/arranger/musical-director Aaron Robinson, the concert never disappointed but instead delighted us lucky members of the nearly sold out house.
The variety of rhythmic styles and tempi among the selections held our interest throughout the evening. From the breakneck “Dizzy Fingers” by “Zez”Confrey (a piano tour de force accompanied only by the excellent string bass playing of Chuck McGregor and the flying sticks of drummer Allen Millett) to the slower more lyrical “Sunflower Slow Drag by Joplin and Hayden, Joseph Lamb’s “Sensation” by the whole orchestra, and “Ragtime Nightingale” with Mr. Fleming soloing on the piano, there was never a dull moment.
Sean Fleming’s warmth, charm and wit were in full force as he provided colorful commentary giving background on the composers and their works. His strategically chosen players for this concert were: Michael Albert, who played the first violin melodies with élan; Carolyn McDonald, whose 2nd violin provided the necessary string harmonies with poise; the ever reliable Richard Francis, whose cello added sonorous body to the string section; nimble-fingered Mitch Kihn on clarinet, Linda Brunner on flute and David DeBolt on bassoon whose expert wind playing provided texture and color to the sound; Peter Stuart, whose artful trumpeting added just the right amounts of brightness and bluesy jazziness; the ever-steady and rhythmical Allen Millett, whose drumming was not showy or flashy but kept pace with Mr. Fleming’s conducting with a forceful beat; and, finally, string bass player Chuck McGregor, whose tireless and on pitch plucking was required for every selection on the program.
The buzz in the lobby during intermission and all around town for days following this concert attested to the excellence of this first of the concerts planned by the RFA’s Summer Concert Series Committee. Next up will be “Music from the Lake, Mooselook” at Bald Mountain Camps on July 23rd at 7:45 featuring the Stratton Steel Band. The hugely popular annual classical concert by faculty members of New Jersey’s Westerhoff School of Music will take place at the Church of the Good Shepherd the evening of August 7th. Then on August 21st “Music from the Lake, Rangeley” will feature Down East Brass playing on board Kevin Sinnett’s Oquossoc Lady for private RFA fund-raising parties along the shoreline followed by a concert at Loon Lodge that evening. Finally, another exciting first for our summer concert series will be a concert by 35 members of the Boston Saengerfest Men’s Chorus for two performances at the Church of the Good Shepherd the evening of August 23rd and afternoon of August 24th.
As always, proceeds from the RFA’s summer concerts and other events will be used to support arts programming for the children, youth and adults of our region and the continued development of the RFA’s downtown arts center now housed on Maine Street at the RFA Lakeside Theater. For more information on this series and the many other RFA-sponsored events coming your way this summer, please contact the Rangeley Chamber of Commerce and go to the RFA’s web site: rangeleyarts.org.
(by Dallas Plantation resident, Don Schuman)