BIOGRAPHY

The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra (PRO) is the world’s only year-round, professional ensemble re creating “America’s Original Music” – the syncopated sounds of early musical theater, silent cinema, and vintage dance. The PRO came into being as the result of Rick Benjamin’s 1985 discovery of thousands of turn-of-the-century orchestra scores once belonging to Victrola recording star Arthur Pryor. In 1988 the Orchestra made its formal debut at Alice Tully Hall – the first concert ever presented at Lincoln Center by such an ensemble. Since then, PRO has appeared at hundreds of leading arts venues, including the Ravinia Festival, the Smithsonian Institution, Chautauqua, the Brucknerhaus (Austria), New York’s 92nd Street Y, and the American Dance Festival. In 1999, PRO’s music inspired master choreographer Paul Taylor’s new dance Oh You Kid!, which was premiered at the Kennedy Center by the Paul Taylor Dance Company and the Orchestra. In June 2003, the PRO presented the world premiere of Rick Benjamin’s new reconstruction of Scott Joplin’s opera Treemonisha at San Francisco’s Stern Grove Festival. In 2005 and again in 2006, Paragon had the honor of being presented in Minneapolis’s Orchestra Hall as guests of the Minnesota Orchestra.

In addition to its worldwide concert hall, university, and festival appearances, the PRO has acquired a considerable following both in the US and abroad through radio appearances on New York’s WQXR, NPR, the BBC, and the Voice of America. Since 1989, the Walt Disney Company has relied on the Orchestra’s recordings for the outdoor theme music heard at Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland, Disney World, and Disneyland Paris. The PRO strengthened its international following during its extended engagement as a U.S. Ambassador of Goodwill at the 1992 World’s Universal Exposition in Seville, Spain.

Over the years, Paragon Ragtime Orchestra has been heard on the soundtracks of several motion pictures and television programs. The Orchestra’s audio and video recordings have been widely praised and considered instrumental in rekindling interest in America’s rich traditions of theater, cinema, and dance orchestral music.

The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra is an IRS 501(c)(3) Tax Exempt Non-Profit organization.

Paragon Ragtime Orchestra concerts are sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

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PROGRAMS

Scott Joplin and the Original Kings of Ragtime

Note: Paragon has one of the world’s largest libraries of historic American orchestral music, and the particular pieces played on each of Paragon’s concert programs are subject to change to reflect this unique resource.

Travel back to the early 1900s as modern life begins: America falls in love with electricity and automobiles, flying machines take to the sky, and vaudeville creates American idols. A two-hour concert program of approximately 15 pieces played from historic orchestrations drawn from the Orchestra’s legendary 22,000 title collection. Joplin’s music takes center stage, but all performances are one of a kind as conductor and pianist Rick Benjamin shares his score discoveries with the audience – and the Orchestra – in a voyage of discovery tracing the roots of American music. This is PRO’s most popular program – critically acclaimed across 48 U.S. states and seven countries. Composers represented on this program include Scott Joplin, Joseph F. Lamb, James Scott, George Botsford, May Aufderheide, and Kerry Mills.

You're a Grand Old Rag: George M. Cohan's Broadway

For over a century, the name George M. Cohan has conjured the rollicking magic that is Broadway. And this legend is real: as America’s beloved tunesmith and original “Song & Dance Man,” he was the father of modern musical theater. You’re a Grand Old Rag is a two-hour concert program of approximately a dozen songs and pieces by Cohan, played from the showman’s rediscovered original 1900s Broadway orchestrations. Based on the Orchestra’s BILLBOARD-charted “Top Classical Album” of the same name, this celebration of early American musical theater stars modern-day Broadway song & dance man, Colin Pritchard. This exciting PRO program offers a stirring look at George M’s amazing life and music – “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “H-a-rr-i-gan,” “The Yankee Doodle Boy,” “Over There!,” and all the rest. You’re A Grand Old Rag is a tap-dancing bravura performance that brings audiences to their feet!

Meet Me at the Fair!: Music from the Great World's Fairs

Note: Paragon has one of the world’s largest libraries of historic American orchestral music, and the particular pieces played on each of Paragon’s concert programs are subject to change to reflect this unique resource.

Meet Me at the Fair! is a two-hour spectacular musical celebration of the world’s fairs, including the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, and the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. Musical “exhibits” rotate, but works by Offenbach, Joplin, Moses-Tobani, and Sousa are the core attraction, performed by Rick Benjamin and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, the official orchestra and conductor of the U.S. Pavilion of the 1992 World’s Fair. Music played a key role in the success of all these international festivals, launching both hit songs and the illustrious careers of many American musicians (including Scott Joplin and Sousa). This new PRO program reunites stirring world’s fair hits with the continuous projections of magnificent fairground images. There is audience participation (on “Meet Me In St. Louis, Louis”), and as a finale, the Orchestra accompanies the Moving Picture Travelogue – historic world’s fair films by Thomas Edison & company. All is propelled forward with evocative narration by conductor Rick Benjamin.

'Round the Christmas Tree

Note: Paragon has one of the world’s largest libraries of historic American orchestral music, and the particular pieces played on each of Paragon’s concert programs are subject to change to reflect this unique resource.

Touring annually in November and December, ’Round the Christmas Tree is Paragon Ragtime Orchestra’s stylish and warm-hearted tribute to America’s Holiday musical traditions. This colorful program features favorite selections from the theaters, ballrooms, grand mansions, and humble hearthsides of the Victorian era. Familiar Christmas songs and carols are heard from their original 19th century scores, along with novelties—including a ragtime version of the Nutcracker Suite!—and sparkling instrumental and vocal soloists. As a finale, the Orchestra accompanies a screening of one of the world’s first Christmas movies, a 1905 Thomas Edison production. ’Round the Christmas Tree is a unique event that will delight and cheer your audiences well into the New Year.

Silent Film

With more than 700 screenings across 48 States and 7 countries, PRO is one of the world’s foremost silent film accompanists. From Hollywood (American Cinematheque) to Chicago (Ravinia Festival) to New York (Lincoln Center), PRO leads the way in designing, producing, and performing silent film programs for contemporary audiences. Paragon also has one of the world’s finest collections of more than 900 original film scores (c. 1898-1928), adding unmatched historical depth and interest to its screenings.

 

The Clown Princes

Our most popular two-hour silent film program of featuring a “variety pack” of three short, complete comedies, one each by Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd, accompanied by their original 1910s/20s orchestral scores. See here for the current list of films.

 

Chaplin – A Dog’s Life (New Program!) 

A two-hour silent film program of Charlie Chaplin’s 1918 featurette A Dog’s Life, with Rick Benjamin’s new reconstruction of the original score. The big city adventures of the Tramp, with his trusty “thoroughbred mongrel,” scraps. Charming!

 

Fairbanks – The Mark of Zorro

A two-hour silent film program of the original Zorro, Hollywood’s very first action-adventure movie! Douglas Fairbanks thrills audiences with swordplay, romance, and just a bit of comedy. Features the spectacular original Spanish flavored 1920 orchestral score.

 

Keaton – The General

A two-hour silent film program of Buster Keaton’s 1927 masterpiece The General, a “story of love, laughs, and locomotives,” is a Civil War railroad epic inspired by the Great Locomotive Chase. World famous, and rightly so, featuring the original 1927 orchestral score.

 

Chaplin – The Kid

A two-hour silent film program of Chaplin’s first full-length feature, The Kid. The Tramp adopts an abandoned child, and the two set off on a series of adventures. Sweet and funny, with touches of high drama featuring the original 1921 orchestral score. 

 

Keaton – Steamboat Bill, Jr.

A two-hour silent film program of Keaton’s late-era, Steamboat Bill, Jr. features Keaton as the hapless son of a Mississippi riverboat captain trying to learn the family business. Extremely funny, with a fantastic cyclone finale! Features the original 1928 orchestral score.

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PROJECTS

Silent Film
Meet Me at the Fair!: Music from the Great World's Fairs

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