Tim McInnes: A Canadian Neo-classical composer with American Ragtime passions

I don’t quite remember the first time I heard Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’. It was probably around the age of 15 or 16. But I do remember that it felt natural, as if I had always known the musical style. When I first heard the tune – and for at least half a decade thereafter – I did not know that it was a genre called ‘Ragtime’. 

By the age of 10, I had a fair understanding of the term ragtime, thanks to the continuous and repeated reading of ‘Simla in Ragtime’, the tongue-in-cheek, illustrated guide book to my childhood summer hometown. Like many other matters one had to figure out in the 1970s and 1980s in India, I figured out the meaning of ragtime by studying the content and comparing it to other genres of content. At that time, I was in the habit of reading, experiencing, listening to anything and everything that I could lay my hands on, and keeping a mental note of it all, frequently connecting all new information (consciously, but at the back of my mind) to previously acquired knowledge. 

I saw my first Charlie Chaplin and Laurel Hardy movies when I was around 11, my first western cartoon (Mickey Mouse) around the age of 12 and ever since then I would invite myself into the living room of anyone who had a television and a video cassette player – which is how I developed familiarity with western classical music, jazz, blues, show tunes … and ragtime. Charlie Chaplin as a composer was not strictly ragtime. Or classical. Or … well, he made various genres march to his own tune. But the essence of ragtime was part of his repertoire.

That’s why I felt familiar with Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’ when I first heard it. I had heard music akin to it in silent movies and cartoons. 

Which is also how I felt – gladly familiar – when I heard Tim McInnes’ music recently. ‘Shadowlife’ was the track I heard. That familiarity led me to find more of his songs and before I knew it, I had gone through two of his albums, newer singles, listening over and over again and finding myself rediscovering new material in genres that I not only used to enjoy immensely, but also felt and understood intimately since it helped me understand the two extremities of western musical performance – the educated, regimented, disciplined boundaries of pure classical forms at one end and the free abandon, disruptive, reckless galloping of emerging new genres at the other end – and all that lies in between.

Tim McInnes is a Canandian composer, singer and songwriter. His music reminds me of my endless journey to learn, explore, dismantle, combine, conform, break free, and do it all again endlessly in an effort to find answers that only art-forms can provide. His music is not exactly ragtime. It is not exactly classical. It is not jazz. But what it is, is a fundamental quest to find oneself.

His 2017 debut album, Selfie, was hesitant, exploratory, with a mix of covers and originals mostly in a similar ragtime vein. It’s a fun album, I get the feeling he was enjoying the journey of playing and making music. ‘Chopinish’ is a quick witted title for a quaint little song that is played in what one would recognise as Chopinesque. 

In the 2018 followup album, Shadowlife, I can still recognise clear ragtime elements but now interwoven with classical and showtunes flourish elements, with some experimental soundscapes. The title track is a good representative of that approach. ‘Music for Money’ is a beautiful ode to a long forgotten folk-classical era. (I wonder where McInnes’ grew up?). It evokes memories of rolling hills, a brook quietly meandering down that hill – if there were words, this song would have fit in perfectly well in a medieval travelling bard’s standard repertoire. The album has originals (including the enchanting ‘It’s a Sad Song’, although curiously it did not strike me as sad as such), and a few covers. The cover of ‘When I get low I get high’ gets your foot tapping. McInnes has a robust, open voice capable of whipping up a rasping texture when required. The piano solo is super. The cover of ‘Christmas card from a hooker in Minneapolis’ is alright. It lacks the rawness of the Tom Waits original, but covers are always difficult, especially if one is recreating rather than re-interpreting.

Listening to song after song across the two albums, again and again, I felt there were two Tim McInnes. One that was thinking, crafting, constructing, and looking for the one thing that is the holy grail of classical artists but also often the bane – acknowledgment by the fraternity. And then there is the other Tim McInnes, who is just feeling, expressing, playing, performing, talking to his co-musicians, laughing, crying, falling getting up like a child in abandon.

Since 2018, Tim McInnes has released 14 singles. ‘An Even Sadder Song’, which did not strike me as a sad song either, is an incredible introspective-melancholy performed by the artist even as he watches himself immersed in the heavy emotion – like the musical equivalent of an out-of-body astral projection. My favourites are ‘Maya’s Song’ and ‘Ghost Dance’. ‘Ghost Dance’ is a delight. I would venture to say it is the song that marks the definitive departure from Tim McInnes’ earlier experimental, in-between-genres work, towards the post 2020 compositions that seem more firmly grounded in classical leanings. His recently released latest single, Maya’s Song, is classical – it is poignant, melancholic, and tells a story that as a listener I would be hard pressed to describe in specifics or words, but can effortlessly connect to. Classic classical music in my opinion since it is not literature, not a visual, nor a song (words and music telling a story together). This monothematic song’s exposition or intro is relatively short but sufficient, given it is a track on digital platforms in 2023. It lasts till 24 seconds, giving way to the developed interlude (0.25 to 1.39) which is seamlessly succeeded by the flourish from 1.40 to 2.06 and into the climax (2.07 to 2.37).

This is probably a good time to put into perspective Tim McInnes’ musical lineage. He started composing and playing as a serious musician in 2015 (at the age of 62 after a 40-year career working in warehouses and loading docks as a forklift operator. His Spotify profile provides an honest self-declaration of where he thinks he stands in his musical journey. My opinion as a listener differs from his opinion.

Tim turned 70 in December 12, 2022. Which means, he has been doing music professionally for about 7-and-a-half years. To go from rediscovering an instrument he played in childhood, to playing it well enough to record, to composing own tunes, recreating established standards, and to show exemplary growth in a span of 42 songs over 5 years – is an incredible pace of learning and performance. In music, you have to choose the instrument or composition or production to excel, after you have spent at least a few years achieving some level of proficiency in your core principle. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if I said I personally know and have closely interacted with more than 200 musicians across genres over the past 30 years. And if I have to make up a statistic from that data, I would say I know less than 10 who can compose, and less than 5 who are likely to be become very good composers. This is because composing a song or an album is hard enough but to do it over and over and over again is what it takes to call yourself a composer. Tim McInnes is already a composer, and having listened to his 42 songs, I’d say he is done with tentative exploration of his musical interests, has made up his mind to continue to refine his hand at the piano, but focus primarily on composition. Many artists have their energies sucked out of them trying to do everything. His newer works feature well established, instrumental soloists. Kelvin Enns, principal Viola player for Symphonia London, Kingston Symphony Orchestra in Canada, is the featured soloist in an ‘Even Sadder Song’x ‘For Ukraine’, and ‘Almost Home’. ‘Ghost Dance’ features the excellent violinist, Jessie Granmont. The instinct to collaborate with seasoned musicians is a sign of great maturity and I am looking forward to his next release.

You can follow and hear Tim’s music on Spotify at:

There is an excellent radio interview with Tim McInnes on CKMS 102.7 FM:

You can also read a review of Selfie by Syncopated Times at:


    • thebengali

      Hi Bob,

      Thank you for the show notes link – I have embedded the same (replacing the audio file link); however, it appears as a block with the URL (no background image or visual).

      btw, Radio Waterloo has very interesting content. Since listening to the Tim McInnes interview, I have checked in a couple of times to discover new stories.

      Take care and have a good week ahead.


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