Every now and then something you do or encounter seems to hint that it could take on a life of its own. If you’re paying attention, you sense the bigger potential - and if you’re smart, you run with it.
It’s difficult for me to express how The Beatles affected me when they arrived. As noted in my bio, and to put it simply, they turned my musical world upside down. I wasn’t alone. As a musical colleague once said, “The day before The Beatles came, no one was in a band. The day after they came, everyone was in a band!” Yes, they had that much of an effect.
They were only one part of a gigantic picture that I would touch on in my college classroom. In a semester that covered everything from Gregorian Chant to Miles Davis, they were, by necessity, relegated to a small chunk of time. And every time I spoke about them, I wanted to continue beyond the bell. Based on feedback from students (and my own gut), I suspected that the topic could take on that life of its own.
I decided to begin to lecture on the Fab Four away from the classroom. Not a slave to a bell, I could really dive into some detail. A single note McCartney might choose which would raise the tension level of the music for a moment, to be resolved a moment later. (And why would it feel unstable one moment, fully settled the next - what internal musical reaction was taking place?) How about the concept of a string quartet in a pop song. Who ever heard of such a thing in those days? The depth and breadth of a lyric. That twangy instrument from India and the origins of “world music”. The outside-the-box recording techniques and ideas. And the all-important fifth Beatle, George Martin. I could spend time on all of those topics.
Knowing how strongly their popularity lives on, I began to promote and conduct lectures called “The Beatles - 50 Years Later”. These are not concerts - I’m not a tribute band. They’re talks, discussions. I do illustrate some things on a piano or with a recording, but it’s about the exploration and new understanding, and hearing things you never heard before.
I mostly speak at libraries and civic organizations and while my audiences sometimes include trained musicians, the lectures are geared to lay people. You need not know anything about music - except that you like it - to get a great deal of enjoyment and deeper appreciation from my talks.
Later, The Beatles talks expanded in concept. Because I feel that people who don’t know how music developed would gain a greater enjoyment from it if they did, I also conduct a series of lectures called “How Music Works”. This series is more generic and dives into some history, theory, milestones and personalities. The development over the centuries of our beloved art. It’s as close as I can get to cramming a semester of Music Appreciation into a few hours or a few meetings (and sans tuition!). My relationship with libraries and organizations usually begins with a Beatles talk, but more often than not winds up with How Music Works, and with some frequency, the pattern is repeated months later in the same venue but for a different sea of faces.
Every now and then I’ll run into someone who says, “I don’t want to know too much about music - it’ll spoil the enjoyment for me.” To that person I say, “If you were a physician watching a brilliant routine by an Olympic gymnast, would you marvel at that performance less because you understand the body, its systems, and how that athlete is using it?” Of course not. It’s like that with music. I try to give insight into the systems of music and how they work to increase your listening and intellectual pleasure. For example: There’s a deceptive cadence in a Beethoven symphony. I know that cadence, when it’s coming, how he sets you up for it, where it’s going, and I wait in glorious expectation for that moment every time I listen to or perform the work. I wait for the chills it sends down my spine, and they invariably come.
In-depth knowledge works. So in “How Music Works” I try to bring that understanding to my listeners. This series is geared mostly to classical music, but we cover some jazz as well. I’m a flexible speaker, and if my crowd exhibits an interest in one particular aspect of a topic, I’ll go there. It keeps the lectures vibrant, fluid and personal.
A prediction: If you bring “The Beatles - 50 Years Later” to your library or organization, you’ll later want to host “How Music Works”. Try me.