Roots: Part Six (also known as The Last)

Bill, Bach and The Beatles

 

I promised that this post would be my final kick at looking at personal influences.  For that reason, this entry will be something of a musical melange, wherein the individuals identified are representative of something much greater.  Starting with…

Bill

Musician.  Historian.  Gardener.  Technician.  Philosopher.  Diplomat.  Teacher.  Optimist.  Writer.  Craftsman.  Artist.  Intellectual.  Connoisseur.  Designer.  Bibliophile.  Geneologist.  Traveller.  Photographer.  Carpenter… but most of all, a gentleman and friend.  (from his interment card)

He really was all those things… a bit reminiscent of Oscar’s Wilde’s father (see post four).  And, in my case, also a first cousin.

His family (he and his mother… he an only child, never married and his father had died before I was born) lived in the same locality as we did and was part of our extended family until his death in 2008.

He was a recognized and honoured local historian, a piano tuner whose expertise had him in demand by institutions (university, college and area churches), concert venues as well as piano teachers, and he was an audiophile whose wide-ranging interests included classical music and the spoken word.  As illustration of this, when we were charged with clearing out his one-bedroom apartment following his passing, among the items to be removed were a virtually complete set of weekly issues of a local newspaper dating from the latter 1800’s to the 1980’s, an extensive collection of research papers and photos of area families, two computers, several stereo units in various states of repair and over 3000 audio tapes, most of them recordings of CBC’s Ideas broadcasts and classical music offerings.  And yes, you could add that he was something of a packrat!

My point in mentioning this is that he introduced me to a wider variety of music composition and, in so doing, broadened my appreciation of musical genres and periods.  One remembered gift during my youth was the loan of an album of music by Vaughan Williams.  I think it related to my learning of a Greensleeves arrangement during my piano lessons.  The album contained a Fantasia on the Greensleeves melody and, even more to my liking, a fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis.  I have always found it to be among the most haunting and evocative compositions I’ve experienced.  In case you don’t know the piece, here’s a partial recording of the work (although the piece is best experienced from a good recording, played on appropriate equipment and listened to with eyes closed).

 

As much as Bill was a specific influence on my musical tastes, he also represents the many people- students, teachers, friends, family, musicians- who have helped to broaden my appreciation of music in its many incarnations.

Bach

 

 

No, that’s not Bach in the picture… just me trying to play one of his preludes.  Actually Prelude One from his Well-Tempered Clavier.

But you’ve got to hand it to ol’ J.S. He really does have quite an impressive set of stats.

  1. He was a composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist and violinist.
  2. He wrote well over 1000 works including cantatas, chamber and orchestral music, canons and fugues, and chorales.
  3. He married twice and fathered twenty children.
  4. He held a number of posts during his lifetime, managing to eke out a relatively stable career (not bad for a musician but see #8 below).
  5. He is regarded as the premier composer in the Baroque style and by many as the finest composer in the history of Western music.
  6. He was highly respected by such luminaries as Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Mendelssohn.
  7. His sole motive in composing was neither popularity nor the acquisition of wealth. His cantatas are signed Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone).
  8. He was arrested only once, in 1717.

 

 

J.S. Bach, busted!

 

 

 Mr. Bach has played a part at several significant junctures in my life.  His Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring was the processional at our wedding (a request of my wife, who claims not to remember it being played!)  I, in turn, played it as the processional at the wedding of our middle son (Pat) to his wife, Pam.  There are so many fine recordings of the piece, even on YouTube, you may wonder why I’ve chosen this arrangement.  I’m not sure… but, now for something completely different…

As with Bill, Bach is specific influence but also representative of a whole body of significant work throughout music history which I appreciate and enjoy. 

 

The Beatles 

 

Could you grow up in the Sixties and avoid these guys?

 

George, Paul, John and Ringo

Like so many of my generation, my first experience of The Beatles in performance was their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in February of 1964.  In my case, that appearance coincided with a dinner invitation for our family by an elderly couple.  After supper we settled in the living room for a visit and, because of the hype surrounding arrival in America, our hosts reluctantly switched on the black and white television… and this is what we saw…

Warning:  When you click on the two Beatles YouTube clips, you will need to click again and watch them in YouTube itself (appears in a separate window)… it’s one of those Beatle things… but worth, I think, the extra click.

 Well, actually we saw about thirty seconds or so of the performance.  After concluding the sound was something less than “music to the ears” (of the adults present), the television was switched off, several disparaging remarks made about the group and the conversation moved on.  I must say that, at the time, I was disappointed in missing the remainder of the performance but, given lasting impact of the Beatles on popular music in general and on my own musical development, and given the countless opportunities I’ve had to experience that moment in rerun, I can’t complain (and, anyway, it makes for a good tale of the “generation gap”.)

So… what can one say about The Beatles that hasn’t been said?  Not much.  I would just observe that, for me, their ability to evolve musically over the decade (60’s) and to create the diversity of songs that now forms their catalogue is a remarkable achievement.  I often like to use a Beatles selection for warmup or string together a medley of their songs.  One short example follows…    Got To Get You Into My Life…

 

A quick note… because I’m using an electronic piano (makes for a cleaner recording), I have the luxury of changing from a piano sound (one can also have two blended).  Here you’re hearing (or supposedly hearing) an acoustic guitar combined with a brass section.  Anyway, it’s kinda fun to play… 

 When it comes to The Beatles there are so many possibilities… but I’ve chosen a simple little number from their “White Album”. The recorded version features Paul doing most of the heavy lifting with a little percussion from John and Ringo.  It was (so Wikapedia confidently states) written by Paul during the Beatles brief sojourn in India as a love song for Linda (Eastman, his future wife).  And, in spite of its ostensible simplicity, it took sixty-seven takes to achieve a satisfactory recording.  So, here’s I Will, my version, done in one take and sounding like it (!)…

 

 

 

 

Oh yes, here’s what’s his name doing the same song (the showoff)…

 

 

In response to criticisms made of his solo career, I am inclined to applaud Paul’s post-Beatle efforts.  True, not all his later songs are gems… but he has continued to write, record and perform relentlessly when he easily could have rested on his laurels, his reputation and his royalties.  Rock on, Sir Paul.

And, like Bill and Bach, The Beatles segment could have as easily been about James Taylor or The Strawberry Alarm Clock (well, maybe not SAC quite so much)… because The Beatles are representative of the many musical groups and individuals whose songs affected (and infected) my life.  As a wise man once wrote- there ain’t no cure for love

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