WILLIAMSPORT — "Like oxygen from another age."
That's how Paragon Ragtime Orchestra Founder and Director Rick Benjamin, of Lewisburg, describes what attendees will experience at an upcoming musical event.
The orchestra will be presenting its "Meet Me At The Fair!" concert at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, at the Community Arts Center in Williamsport.
"Meet Me At The Fair," presents music from the Great “World’s Fairs.” The orchestra will present a musical and visual celebration of the legendary world’s fairs including visits to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, and the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. The concert is being made possible by the Williamsport Community Concert Association Endowed Fund.
Benjamin said original musical scores will be played as listeners are treated to images of the World's Fairs are viewed on a screen.
"It's a concept as big as the World's Fairs themselves," said Benjamin.
The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra is the world’s only year-round, professional ensemble re-creating “America’s Original Music.”
Benjamin said the orchestra was started after he found an old box of music — while he attended the Juilliard School of Music — which was going to be sent to a landfill. In it, Benjamin found old scores of orchestra, music which he decided should be brought to life. Thus the formation of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra.
Benjamin has built a career on the discovery and performance of lost American music from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He uses his extraordinary 20,000-title collection of historic American orchestral scores; dating back to 1850, as the basis of its repertoire. In addition to his work with Paragon, Benjamin maintains active careers as a pianist, arranger, and tubist.
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, the orchestra has appeared at hundreds of leading arts venues.
In addition to its worldwide concert hall, university and festival appearances, the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra has acquired a considerable following both in the United States and abroad, through its radio programs on the New York Times’ WQXR, National Public Radio, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and the Voice of America networks. Since 1989, the Walt Disney Company has relied on the orchestra’s recordings for the outdoor “area music” heard at Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland, Disney World, and Disneyland Paris.
"Over 600 million people across the world have heard the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra's music upon entering a Disney facility," said Benjamin.
The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra has also 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.
"There were young people, teenagers dancing to the music being played in Spain," Benjamin said. "The very nature of the music is happy, cheerful, and positive."
Over the years, the 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 orchestra music.
"The Orchestra has 35 members who rotate depending, on the music they play and the instruments they need," Benjamin said.
Twelve musicians will accompany him during the event at the Community Arts Center.
Benjamin said the orchestra is just coming off a five-state Mid-West tour.
"We're based in Lewisburg, but we do more playing in Los Angeles than here," said Benjamin.
In the coming week, the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra will also be launching a new album, titled "Duces Wild."
"The album features a lost Overture by George Gershwin," Benjamin said. "It's a 1919 overture to Gershwin's first Broadway show. It became lost after just 10 performances when the cast went on strike and the production 'La-La-Lucile' halted. We should have the album available at the Williamsport concert."
For those who have never attended a Paragon Ragtime Orchestra production, Benjamin said to "be prepared to feel optimistic, of good cheer and have fun.
" It's oxygen from another age."
Tickets for the Williamsport concert are available online at https://www.caclive.com/events/paragon-ragtime-orchestra/ or by calling the Box Office Telephone: 570-326-2424.