Sweatin’ To The Oldies

We’ve already learned about Bach’s influence on modern music, parenting, and movies. He was also a pioneer in fitness, discovering the importance of aerobic exercise nearly 300 years before it became popular.

In today’s video, we go on a run – literally, the word Courante means “running” – and right from the get go, Bach’s got us on the move. Hope you enjoy it, and please show your support by clicking on the link below, to make a donation to the 4-Way String Project – thanks!

Dance With The Devil

In today’s video, we hear the Allemande from the d minor Suite, which contains one of the most shocking moments in all of Bach’s cello music. Bach surprises us with the most dissonant chord he can – the tritone, sometimes called “The Devil In Music”, followed by a sudden flurry of very fast notes. To me, it sounds like someone pulling a fire alarm and running away – maybe Bach, a profoundly religious man, felt guilty after dancing with the Devil.

As always, these videos are to raise support for 4-Way’s free education program for underserved kids- please consider making a donation by clicking the button below the video, and please like, share and post comments!

Two Against Nature – An Appreciation of Walter Becker and Steely Dan

From left, Walter Becker, Donald Fagen, and Glenn Gould (who did not, to my knowledge, play with Steely Dan)

 

Earlier today, one of my favorite musicians died – Walter Becker, half of the creative team behind Steely Dan, a 70’s band whose music has been mislabeled so many times, I will not even attempt to say what genre they were. Think of them as rock musicians who knew and understood jazz harmony and arranging, and you’re in the ballpark. They tried very hard not to be successful – writing sophisticated harmonies and weird lyrics while refusing to tour for 20 years – and failed, selling over 40 million albums.

Becker and his partner, Donald Fagen, met at Bard College in the 60’s, and began playing together in different bands, one of which briefly included fellow student Chevy Chase. Fagen released a statement on Sunday about Becker’s passing, and said: “Walter had a very rough childhood – I’ll spare you the details. Luckily, he was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny. Like a lot of kids from fractured families, he had the knack of creative mimicry, reading people’s hidden psychology and transforming what he saw into bubbly, incisive art.” (You can read Fagen’s moving tribute in full here.)

Steely Dan wrote songs about drug dealers (“Kid Charlemagne” and “Glamour Profession”), Puerto Rican immigrants in NY (“The Royal Scam”), creepy guys (“Hey Nineteen”) and losers (“Deacon Blues”). Listen to any of these songs (or pretty much anything else they wrote), and you’ll hear the voice of the outsiders both Becker and Fagen felt themselves to be.

I imagine this feeling of not belonging was behind their lack of interest in touring when they were most popular. They remind me of another weirdo who disliked performing, Glenn Gould. Much like Becker and Fagen, Gould quit the stage at the height of his fame, preferring to work in the recording studio, where he could re-work his interpretations over and over until he was satisfied. Over the years, Becker and Fagen lost many great musicians who wanted to get out on the road and make more money, and at the height of their fame, Steely Dan became an exclusively studio band, with different personnel on every tune.

Years later, I finally got to see them in concert, and it was certainly fun, but I understood why they had been so reluctant to play live back in their heyday – simply put, the music just didn’t sound as good. Steely Dan’s albums are so beautiful sounding and atmospheric, it was hard to hear the songs without all the subtleties included on the recordings.

Many (if not most) artists feel themselves to be somewhat removed from society as a whole, and often do their best work while alone.  I bet Becker and Fagen needed the quiet and space of the studio to do their best work, and the results speak for themselves. So lower your flag, tip your hat, raise your glass, whatever – here’s my all-time favorite tune of theirs, “The Caves of Altamira”.

Rest in Peace, Walter, and thanks for the music.

Have A Look Around

It’s time for round 2 of the Bach Suite videos! Today we hear the Prelude to the d minor Suite. This piece sounds like one of Bach’s improvisations – the beginning seems like someone opening a door to a room for the first time. Hope you like it, and if so, please consider a donation to 4-Way’s free education program by clicking the donate button – thanks!

 

 


Till next time (and the Allemande!),

Nat

New Video from 4-Way String Project

As hard as it is to imagine right now, school starts in two weeks! 4-Way will once again be in residence at Woodford Paideia, assisting with 5th and 6th grade orchestra, this time for the whole school year. We’ll begin our after school program in early September, and we can’t wait! There will be more news coming soon about the program, new supporters, and upcoming concerts – stay tuned! In the meantime, here’s a video Kevin made with highlights from last year’s program – I hope you enjoy it as much as we do, and if you’re able to support our work, please click the donate button below the video – thank you!