Features and Reviews
Meet Les Soper
(Continuing our series on Rose Leaf Club members, Les Soper, one of our star performers, contributed the following musical autobiography)
My mother married a sailor...Well, not really! He was a career navy man who had joined at the age of eighteen, come up through the ranks, and who was in his eleventh year of service when they married in 1930. He planned to retire as a Chief Petty Officer in 1939 after twenty years of service. He would be thirty-eight years old. (He made Chief two years later. [It was a good plan.] Dad was gone most of the time, but his paycheck sustained the family during the depression years and Mother raised four of her five children pretty much alone.
I was born in 1931 and we came to Southern California in 1932. We lived in San Pedro and Long Beach in the 1930s. Dad did retire as planned and we moved to Maywood and Bell in East Los Angeles. We had him for two years. He was recalled to active duty in January 1942 to fight in World War II. Dad retired again in 1945.
Mother was a good musician and played piano and organ. All of her children were given music lessons. Three of us still perform and my sister and I are both music teachers. My sister is a violin teacher and I have been a piano teacher since 1958.
Our mother had been raised in a religious household and her faith sustained all of us through some very difficult times. I became a church organist at age sixteen and I had seventeen years of piano training when I accepted a call to do missionary work in North Carolina and Virginia at age nineteen. I spent six months of that mission as accompanist for a 12-man missionary chorus that toured the two states. We sang in schools, churches, clubs, and local radio stations. In North Carolina I met the young woman who would later become my wife.
When I returned home, I was inducted into the Army for two years. The Korean War ended shortly after basic training and I was sent to school in New Jersey. I courted and married my wife, Florine, during that time.
Florine and I attended Brigham Young University in Utah for many years and we both graduated with Masters Degrees in education. Florine taught elementary and I had choral music programs in jr. and senior high school. Our two boys were born during our college years.
We were recruited to teach in Simi Valley, California in 1966 and we both worked there until retirement. I developed a choral music program in a three year Junior High School that flourished for 26 years. Florine acquired a second Master's Degree in Library Science from USC and became a librarian. We purchased our first home in Simi Valley and we still live there.
I have always been much involved in church activities. Much of the time has been in music. Being an organist, choir director, or accompanist has always been a part of my life and I am grateful for it.
I retired in 1990 and found Ragtime. I discovered Dick Zimmerman and the Maple Leaf Club in 1991 and have had more fun than I could have ever imagined. I was so impressed by the men and women who dedicated major parts of their lives restoring and reviving a lost art that is so important to our history. I asked Dick to send me early copies of the Rag Times and I pored over them to discover the history of the ragtime revival. I have collected ragtime music for twelve years.
I started a performing group called "Nostalgia and Ragtime". For the past 12 years we have performed every Tuesday morning for rest homes, hospitals, and senior centers. My six "highly individual" performers sing music from the 1890s through the 1940s. I accompany and play lots of ragtime.
I had the privilege of performing in the West Coast Ragtime Festivals in Fresno during 1992,1993, and 1994. It was there that I met Jean and Paul Huling. I was fascinated by Paul's washboard and by his playing. They helped me get my first board and it has been a sleigh ride ever since. With my friend John Virgil, a master woodworker and carver, we have worked on changing the history of musical washboards forever. I have perfected an unusual solo technique and John has produced a series of hardwood boards that is spectacular. Each board is a prototype for the one that follows. I am pushed to develop new playing techniques for each new board.
In 1995, I was given extensive administrative duties in my church and I had to curtail my ragtime performance and practicing rather drastically. Sundays had always been a challenge, but I had usually found a way. For three years I missed most club meetings and went to no festivals. In 1999, I was released from my responsibilities. My life is again centered in music. I attended my first festival in Sacramento that year. I took my washboard and played after hours, but I didn't play much piano.
I set up an extensive piano practice schedule that continues to this day. The result has been some wonderful improvements in my playing skill and new insights into music that I first learned ten or more years ago. I even suffered a severe reminder, last year, when I suffered a sciatic attack from sitting too much in front of the piano. Thus far, the piano practice has resulted in a ragtime concert presented in honor of my 70th birthday in May 2001. It was in my hometown of Simi Valley for an audience of approximately 300 friends and neighbors. I now have nearly two hours of music ready for performance and I am finally beginning to add new material. I have also finished my first ragtime CD. It includes some of the music that I have been working on.
My next goal is to perform in the West Coast Festival in Sacramento and I am working hard to achieve it. For anyone who wants to play ragtime, I suggest that you practice and practice and practice. Skills and understanding do not come easily. They must be learned and then practiced.
The Rose Leaf is becoming a great club in the tradition of the Maple Leaf. Our audience is loyal and responsive and our leadership is outstanding. Good decisions are being made and the results will be forthcoming. I look forward to the future.