On the Road with the Sedalia Ragtime Orchestra- Part 2: The J. W. Truxel Cymbal

During my orchestra’s recent tour to play at two Missouri ragtime festivals, our drummer, Sandy Harr, made a fascinating acquisition. We had been invited to an after-concert pizza party at the home of our violinist Mary Ann Marx’s brother, who lived in Sedalia where we had been performing. While enjoying homemade pizzas cooked in a backyard brick kiln, a cousin, Michael Makarewicz, came out of the garage holding a large, circular metal object. It was an ancient cymbal, something he had bought years ago at a flea market or junk shop and put it away, forgetting about it until we came to town. The cymbal was a little dinged up and dirty, but still in remarkably good shape considering its apparent age. What was most intriguing about the cymbal was an engraving on its surface that read “J. W. Truxel, Sedalia, MO.”

close-up of the engraving on the cymbal

After a little internet research, I was able to determine the approximate age and history of the cymbal. Jacob W. Truxel was a dealer in musical instruments who arrived in Sedalia, Missouri from Virginia around 1877. His company, J. W. Truxel’s Music House, located at 216 S. Ohio Avenue, became the largest dealer of musical instruments in central Missouri, comparable to businesses in much larger cities. The height of his success came in 1885 when he began selling a very popular upright piano manufactured by the Hallet & Cumston Piano Company. Around 1895, Truxel, encountering hard times, sold out to music publisher John W. Stark, who became better known a few years later when he published Scott Joplin’s mammoth hit, “Maple Leaf Rag,” prompting Stark and Joplin to leave Sedalia for St. Louis and greater fame. Truxel subsequently left the music business and became a justice-of-the-peace.

With this information in hand, we were able to estimate that the cymbal had to have been manufactured in the 19th century, probably in the late 1880s or early 1890s. Sandy asked Makarewicz what he planned on doing with the cymbal. Michael shrugged and explained that he thought of donating it to a music museum but when our orchestra came to town, bearing the name Sedalia, he started to think that we might be a more appropriate home for it, and liked the idea of the cymbal being used in our concert appearances.

Michael Makarewicz presenting the Truxel cymbal to our percussionist, Sandy Harr

By the time we played the Missouri Theatre in Columbia the following Monday, Makarewicz had made up his mind, and he and Sandy came to an agreement whereby Sandy would purchase the cymbal from him for a nominal fee. By the time we returned home, Sandy had analyzed the cymbal’s properties and sent me this report:

It appears that the J. W. Truxel cymbal is made of brass with a nickel silver plating. Brass, an alloy of zinc and copper, is the least costly alloy used in cymbal manufacturing. This cymbal is similar to a contemporary student level instrument and as such would not require the refinements usually inherent in a more orchestral quality cymbal, such as hand lathing and hammering for the sonorities, overtones, and other attributes of a concert cymbal of that era. During the ragtime era, cymbals were much smaller in size than those that followed into the Dixieland and swing genres. Ragtime cymbals were used for accents and single beats in comparison to the time keeping cymbal patterns that evolved in future jazz forms.

Meanwhile, I found a biography of Truxel and a drawing of Truxel’s music store in a copy of The History of Pettis County, Missouri, published in 1882 and displayed on the internet. The two-story building where the store used to be still stands – it is on the National Registry of Historic Places, as are other buildings on Ohio Avenue. The building at 216 Ohio has three stories, however, which indicates that either the original drawing was simplified or the building had another story added in the past hundred years. Fittingly, the old Truxel music store building stands directly across the street from another building that has had a large mural of Scott Joplin at the piano painted on its side.

what the building looks like now

The process of acquiring and researching the cymbal made our trip even more special. It has become our orchestra’s own version of the Liberty Bell, representing the dawn of the ragtime era that our group proudly celebrates.

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