For pianist Tom Roberts, creating the Allegheny City Ragtime Orchestra is the culmination of a lifelong passion for finding Pittsburgh's music. After falling in love with ragtime music in elementary school, "I wanted to find something to connect to from my locale, and when I did research I found nothing," he said.
Connecting place to music is important to Mr. Roberts, and though he left Pittsburgh for a while, he never gave up on that mission of finding Pittsburgh music composed by Pittsburghers -- filling an eight-decade historical hole between the death of Stephen Foster and the bebop era. In the last year, he has found some works that fill in the gaps at Carnegie Library Pittsburgh or at flea markets. And now, his new group gives him the chance to play this music.
The Allegheny City Ragtime Orchestra, an 11-piece "miniature symphony orchestra," will play a concert at the Hillman Center for Performing Arts at Shady Side Academy. The performance will feature traditional ragtime, Latin-inspired ragtime, and ragtime-inspired music from South America. It marks the sixth annual Americas-In concert, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Latin American Studies and the Med Health Services Staff.
"On this concert, we will premiere for the first time in 100 years composers from Pittsburgh, some of whom were quite prominent," said Mr. Roberts.
One of those mysterious compositions is called "Pittsburgh Gazette March and Cakewalk." The piece, written by Carl Bruno, was published in 1902 by a publisher called the Walrus Company, but not much else is known about it. It was originally a piano composition, and Mr. Roberts -- who has arranged music for such movies as "The Aviator" and "DeLovely" -- orchestrated it for the ensemble.
In that way, he is entering into the tradition whose history is still unfolding.
"I think it's exciting for us as a community to find this missing history, filling in these holes in our collective memory."
Elizabeth Bloom: email@example.com, 412-263-1750 or Twitter @BloomPG. Blog: Measured Words at http://blogs.post-gazette.com/arts-entertainment/measured-words.