"Zinzinnati- German Rag"- by Nancy Bierbaum, 1907





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Published on Feb 20, 2010

This track is a sneak preview of my Cincinnati ragtime album, being recorded at Ambient Studios here in town. This may be the title piece of the album, in fact. This piece is called "Zinzinnati- German Rag," composed and self-published by Nancy Bierbaum in 1907. Such a quintessentially-sounding German piece- it's a lightly syncopated polka in the first few sections, followed by a lilting waltz-like section, then followed by a Wagnerian-sounding section with a dramatic octave melody in the bass, then joyously capped off with a section of true ragtime, thus ending the piece. Many of the Cincinnati ragtime composers were second generation Germans, and it's interesting for me to hear the Old World Germanic influences on an African-American musical idiom. This piece truly exemplifies the kind of music that young people would have enjoyed in and around the Cincinnati inner-city neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine at the turn of the 20th century.

Nancy Bierbaum was the oldest of five daughters of William and Anna Bierbaum. Anna worked as a laundress and was widowed by 1900 (according to the census records), when Nancy was 18. By the time Nancy published "Zinzinnati" in 1907, the family lived just north of Camp Washington, an inner-city neighborhood adjacent to the Mill Creek. Nancy worked downtown as a saleslady in the music department of a retail store, probably plugging the latest music on the piano. The dedication of "Zinzinnati- German Rag" says, "The Bellevue Brewing Company. Brewers of "Zinzinnati" The Perfect Bottled Beer." The Bellevue Brewing Company building still stands to this day in the northern part of Over-the-Rhine (the second photo in the accompanying montage is a photo that I took), but unfortunately, in 1919, Prohibition shut down the Bellevue Brewing Company, along with all of Cincinnati's other breweries (with the exception of one). This event effectively brought a source of local cultural pride to an end.

Nancy also composed another ragtime number called "Yankee Breezes" in 1907 (not self-published, but published by Groene Music of Cincinnati), and sent a piece called "By-Gosh Barn Dance" to Vinton Music in Boston in 1908. By 1910 she was working as a pianist in a local theatre. This is where she probably met her husband, William Switzer, who worked as a motion picture operator. Nancy only wrote one more piece called "The Coast Defenders March," published by Krolage Music of Cincinnati in 1920. This was the only piece she wrote under her married name of Nancy Switzer.

Extra special thanks to Dr. Nora Hulse for researching the genealogical information for Nancy Bierbaum.

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