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!
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”.
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!
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!
Classical music presenters are always looking for new ways to boost attendance at their concerts. Well, the search is over – turns out all you need is skydivers and a soccer team.
On Monday night, I played the American and Spanish national anthems with some colleagues from the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra in front of over 23,000 people, the largest audience for a string quartet performance in history.*
We were preceded by skydivers, who delivered the game ball and an enormous American flag, and our performance (which received the loudest ovation of all time**) was followed by a match between FC Cincinnati and Valencia.
*In keeping with our country’s transition to a fact-free society, I am going to say that this is true until someone proves that it isn’t. So there.
** see above
In all seriousness, there’s a lesson here – anyone who puts on concerts could learn a lot from our counterparts in the sports world. Fans were piling into the stadium over an hour before the game, and they could see the players warming up, get autographs and pictures with them, and, of course, buy lots of stuff. There were also lots of announcements about the club’s work with local organizations, and for at least a half-hour before the game, something was always happening on the field that fans were encouraged to watch and participate in.
In short, there was lots of interaction between the entertainers and the audience, as well as activities to build excitement for the event to come. The “pre-game show” is pretty limited before most classical music concerts. Now some of this stuff wouldn’t work, but just having more going on before concerts, especially involving the players, is certainly worth exploring. Post your suggestions in the comments, and PLEASE, e-mail me if you know skydivers willing to work at non-profit rates.
It’s hard to believe that the summer break is more than half over – in about a month, we’ll be back to work teaching at Woodford Paideia, and possibly elsewhere, too! Stay tuned for more details about that.
We’re putting together a short video about 4-Way’s education program, and it will be up next week. In the meantime, here are two videos from the Music Haven program, one of our models, based in New Haven, CT. They remind us why this work is so vital, and show what’s possible when it’s done well.
The first video features the Phat Orangez, a student quartet. In it, the students talk about playing chamber music, and it’s crystal clear how vital it is to them, and how well they get along because they play together.
The second video is a slightly longer look at the Music Haven program. It’s well worth 6 minutes of your time – you’ll be inspired and see why we aspire to follow their lead!