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 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 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 a lecture 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, bass or with a recording, but it’s about the exploration and new understanding, and hearing things you never heard before (although they were always right there).
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 began 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!). Later, my offerings expanded even more. My relationship with a host usually begins with a Beatles talk, but more often than not continues with my other topics, 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 - and in fact, you'd probably enjoy it more. 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.
After receiving enthusiastic feedback from attendees, many venues have asked me if I have other musical topics I speak about. The answer is yes, there are some. But a frequent comment I get after a lecture is that my passion for my topic is clearly evident and contagious, and the truth is that I need to feel that passion for a topic before I'll put together a program. I have passion for all of my topics, as you will find out if you attend one.
All of my lectures are available remotely via Zoom, as a hybrid, or in person when conditions permit. They're all 90 minutes in length (although adjustable if need be). My approach is casual, interactive, and fun. Those who attend leave with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the topic. I mostly speak at libraries, civic organizations, and educational institutions, and while my audiences sometimes include trained musicians, the lectures are all 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 our time together.
Individual topics and lectures:
"THE BEATLES - 50 YEARS LATER"
A respected musicologist once described The Beatles as "One of the most transformative entities of 20th century music" and claimed that they changed the course of popular music forever. Can that possibly be true? Were they really so much more than just four "mop tops"?
In this lecture I don't speak about their general history. Everyone knows they came from Liverpool and wore long hair. Instead, I speak about some components of their work that often go unnoticed, but are instrumental in the effect their music has on us all. The spices. l speak about the specifics of how they changed the pop music landscape forever. I speak about the glass ceilings they shattered. I point out the subtleties that are often overlooked. I tell stories about how they came to do some of the things they did. In short, I illustrate why they were pioneers of music.
"BACK TO BACH"
NASA once approached a well-known musicologist and scientist and said, "We're sending a rocket into deep space and want to include a representation of the music of Earth. What do you recommend we send?" The musicologist responded, "Well, I'd suggest the complete works of J. S. Bach - but that would be bragging." And how right he was. Johann Sebastian Bach embodied all that was Baroque, and literally and figuratively wrote the book on how music works. The forms, harmonies, progressions we use today were outlined by him more than 300 years ago. His influence is everywhere.
In this class we'll listen to some of the remarkable works he left us and learn why they were so remarkable. Included in the discussion will be his Unaccompanied 'Cello Suites, fugues, and Brandenburg Concertos. You will be moved, and when we're done, you'll understand why his complete works included in the payload of that space ship would have, indeed, been bragging!
The year 2020 marked the 250th anniversary of Ludwig Van Beethoven's birth, and there were celebrations world-wide. This colossus of music took the aural world that he was born into, mastered it, and then shouted, "OK, everyone, follow me!" and led the way to a new era.
In this presentation about the Maestro, we'll talk about and listen to some of his great works. But we'll also explore the person and the experiences behind the genius - his upbringing, his love/hate of the metronome, what event caused him to give greater depth (pardon the pun) and import to his bass lines, how disturbing his frustration with his deafness really was, and his influence on the musical world around him.
"JAZZ, AN AMERICAN ART"
Jazz was born in America and developed along with the young country in which it took its first breath. With origins in the deep south, it eventually blanketed our nation and then expanded abroad, evolving in fascinating fashion along the way. Jazz is an American gift to the world.
This lecture covers the history, styles and some major contributors to jazz. We'll talk about the components which are common to all eras, as well as those which are unique to a particular style. Of particular interest, we'll compare the similar elements found in both jazz and classical music (and where the two worlds overlap), gain a deeper understanding of what makes jazz tick, and listen to many examples.
Toe-tapping will be unavoidable.
"THE THREE Bs"
In the early 1800s, the classical world created a very exclusive club (only three members! Wow!). It was referred to as "The Three Bs" and included J. S. Bach, Beethoven, and Berlioz. Later in that century, they tossed Berlioz out, and replaced him with Brahms. That membership lasted, untouched, until not long ago. Specifically, it lasted until I got my hands on the concept.
I thought that the idea should be 1) modernized, and 2) expanded beyond classical music. So I created my own "Three Bs", and MY "Bs" are:
Bach (I could never toss HIM out!), Beethoven (same thing!) and The Beatles.
If you're wondering why The Beatles deserve to be in such lofty company, I would be happy to show you. The traits they shared are surprising, and the influence the older guys had on the younger ones are quite remarkable. They deserve to be in the same club.
This is a three session series, one session on each entity.
"HOW MUSIC WORKS"
As stated above, this is more generic than any of my other lectures; it's a broad view of how music began (although I leave out the prehistoric part), developed, and came to be what we know and love today. In the course of this series, we'll explore everything from Gregorian Chant (mercifully, briefly), to scat singing and lots in between. Classical, pop, and jazz; pioneers, styles and great works are all covered. It's an overview, and very enlightening.
This is a three or four session series.