The Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival attracts visitors from across the country and even across the globe. One couple has made the trip from Scotland to Sedalia five times just to attend the Festival.
Jim and Margaret McPhee have attended the Festival for the last five years and it all started by accident.
“I managed to buy a book in Scotland called ‘They All Played Ragtime,’ a very famous book. Inside that book, there was a flier for the first-ever Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, 1974,” Jim said while taking a break from playing a piano in Hotel Bothwell, where the couple is staying during the Festival. “Because of that, I got in touch with the Scott Joplin Foundation and found out about it.”
Jim said he has played the piano for 70 years and has an interest in ragtime, so he’s been familiar with Sedalia and Scott Joplin. Margaret also has a love of music. Jim and Margaret had plans to attend the Festival about 15 years ago, but had to cancel at the last minute due to Jim having surgery. Finally, after some encouragement from Margaret and their daughter, Mhairi, they attended their first Festival five years ago.
“The piano players here are absolutely magnificent, they’re the best in the world. You will never hear playing of this type, so many piano players in one small spot, I don’t think anywhere in the world,” Jim said. “The other thing is I get a chance to buy an awful lot of music. I’ll spend $200 or $300 on music I can’t get at home. It’s absolutely unique to us. There’s plenty of jazz in the UK, plenty of guys play ragtime, but the opportunity for me to purchase things of that nature is here.”
“In the home of ragtime,” Margaret added.
In addition to the opportunity to hear and purchase music, the McPhee’s enjoy the people who attend and perform at the Ragtime Festival, noting they often talk with the musicians as they walk through downtown, such as Dave Majchrzak. They also keep in touch with fellow Festival-goers throughout the year, including Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation President Kathleen Boswell and her husband, Greg, who spent a few days with the McPhee’s during a trip to Scotland last year.
“The first time we came here was amazing. We had met these two sisters, Margo and Diane, in Hungary at a piano festival. They kept saying ‘you’ve got to come (to the Joplin Festival),’” Jim recalled. “Eventually we come. We’re at (State Fair Community College) for the first concert sitting in the second row. Dave Majchrzak came on stage and said, ‘Anyone here for the first time?’ and I said ‘yes, from Scotland.’ He said, ‘Really?’ And these two ladies were sitting immediately in front of us and turned around and said, ‘It’s Jim from Scotland!’ And ever since then we’ve been bumping into them.”
Jim said one of their favorite venues was the First United Methodist Church, which was unfortunately destroyed after a fire earlier this year. While FUMC is no longer a Joplin Festival venue, Jim mentioned he likes how the Festival is organized this year, with all venues in downtown Sedalia other than SFCC, which makes it easier to watch more performers.
The couple is planning to visit Lake of the Ozarks next week to make the most of their time in America. Last year they visited Truman Lake.
Jim commented that people at home in Scotland are often surprised to hear the couple’s travel plans to America are to visit Sedalia, Missouri, and some don’t even know where Missouri is located.
“People say they’ve been to Florida, California, New York. You haven’t seen America at all. You haven’t been to America,” Jim said.
Both Jim and Margaret complimented many aspects of Sedalia, such as the Missouri State Fairgrounds and the Sedalia Symphony Orchestra.
“You seem to have a great community spirit in this place,” Jim said of Sedalia. “… I’m full of admiration for the place.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.