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Let the ragtime roll! – Brooklyn Paper

Let the ragtime roll!

Old school: The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, founded by Rick Benjamin and a group of his fellow Juilliard students in 1986, return to Onstage at Kingsborough on July 14.
Courtesy of Anna Becker

Put on your boater and wax up your moustaches.

The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, the world’s only professional ragtime ensemble — complete with strings and horns — are playing the classic syncopated sounds of the early 20th Century, putting on a set of songs by the legendary performer and tunesmith George M. Cohan. Broadway star Colin Pritchard will be singing and dancing along to music, at the Hot Summer Nights concert series at Kingsborough College on July 14.

The show marks the second time at Kingsborough for the orchestra, and conductor Rick Benjamin says he loves the venue for both its seaside breezes and the area’s heritage.

“Many musicians from the 19th and 20th Centuries hung out in the area,” said Benjamin, naming composer John Philip Souza as one of the neighborhood’s old regulars.

Benjamin, who first formed Paragon with fellow Juilliard students after finding a sheaf of old sheet music by the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1986, said the Cohan-centric songset came out of a crate he found in an attic holding many of the musician’s pieces.

“It’s what I do, I discover lost musical scores, and I present my discoveries as concerts and recordings,” said Benjamin.

Kingsborough director Anna Becker says she likes the Cohan material — which includes the classic “It’s a Grand Old Flag” — for its good old-fashioned Americanism.

“It has a great patriotic frame to it, which our audience will enjoy,” Becker said, adding that she will clear the floor in front of the stage for those who want to show off their old-school dance moves.

For Benjamin, Cohan’s work is the foundation of the United States’s musical culture.

“The very idea of rhythmic music with syncopation as American music was pioneered by George Cohan,” Benjamin said.

And Pritchard’s performance, complete with improvised story-telling asides in the style of the master himself — “resurrecting the ghost of Cohan,” as Benjamin puts it — brings the whole show together.

Paragon Ragtime Orchestra at Kingsborough Community College [2001 Oriental Boulevard between Perry and Decatur avenues in Manhattan Beach. (914) 764—3133]. July 14, 8 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at wbredderman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/WillBredderman

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