WESLEY REZNICEK is a young pianist from a small town in Missouri, but he already is known at some of the festivals and contests in other states and even traveled with a musical group to Russia. At the time of this interview, he was 15 years old, appearing at a festival in a professional-looking costume. His vocabulary and sophisticated thinking are apparent, but what you won't gather from the print version of this conversation is the manner of his speech -- very assured and quick to respond, having already considered many of the issues that I raised. The interview appeared on my program, "The Ragtime Machine," broadcast and Netcast on KUSF-FM, San Francisco, Calif.
David Reffkin: Where do you live, and how would you describe the town?
Wesley Reznicek: Dixon, Missouri. Small. The population is about 1,000.
DR: Are you the only one playing ragtime there?
WR: Yes, actually.
DR: Do your friends think it's kind of odd that you play ragtime?
WR: They think it's pretty cool, actually. Sometimes my big sister will beg me to play something to show me off to her friends. But it's always just one piece, then they go play soccer. The request is usually for "The Lion Tamer."
DR: Will you still be playing ragtime in a few years and maybe get a job?
WR: Well, I don't think I'll be able to make a living off of it, but I definitely intend to pursue it, get better and play concerts and things like that.
DR: What kind of rags do you play?
WR: I try to go for unusual stuff, but it's pretty hard to find. But that's what I aim for. Obscure pieces, like "Billiken Rag" [EJ Stark, 1913]. You'd be surprised. I brought that up two years ago and hardly anyone had heard of it.
DR: I suppose you have to learn some Joplin rags to get to know ragtime.
WR: Yes, of course, that's where everyone starts. Everyone has to come back to it eventually.
DR: What was the first rag that you learned, and how did that come about?
WR: The first one I learned was "Swipesy Cakewalk." I was looking for a pretty simple one, just to get started. I take classical piano lessons. Every summer, our piano teacher says it's time to do something different. One year it's jazz, another it's Latin. One year I just randomly picked ragtime. I found a simplified version of "The Entertainer." After that I was completely and totally hooked. This was four years ago.
DR: So you've progressed from Joplin and Arthur Marshall to obscure rags the ragtimers hardly know in four years. What does your piano teacher think of this music?
WR: She's pretty supportive of it. She is really trying to push me towards classical, and that's what I mainly do in lessons. But I do a lot of my ragtime at home. She gives me some help, but not much.
DR: Are there any etudes or other pieces that you work on that have syncopation in them?
WR: Yes, there's a couple of them. There's a Haydn piece I've been working on, with a variation that is syncopated.
DR: Have you been tempted to rag the whole piece?
WR: Oh, yes! Actually, I did it in a piano lesson once, and she almost had a heart attack.
DR: Look, if you have a good teacher, you don't want to kill her off. What is her name, and how long have you studied with her?
WR: Kathy Miller. I've been studying nine years.
DR: Do you have friends who also take piano lessons?
DR: This is a small town. Do you give recitals or play in public anywhere?
WR: Recitals for piano lessons -- we have one every year. And then I play in the ragtime concerts up in Eau Claire and Tulsa.
DR: Wow, you're doing the circuit already. Do you do research on the composers?
WR: I do that a little bit, but I try and focus on the music. Professor Bill's website [Bill Edwards] is really an asset.