collaboration, education, piano

When a Bow Was a Blade

As I prepared to cut and share a beautifully molded piece of Miesse chocolate this week, a memory brought tears of laughter to my eyes. When we were undergraduates at the Vanderbilt University Blair School of Music, violists Henry and Andrew wanted to inject comedy into our weekly recital by and for college music students. They chose to perform Sonata for Viola Four Hands and Harpsichord by P.D.Q Bach, a fictitious son of J.S. Bach created by musician and satirist Peter Schickele. They acquired fishing line and a hacksaw for non-traditional playing techniques. They bought a cheap child-sized violin for one section of the piece. To add to the fun with their viola bows, they developed a parody of the sword fight between Westley and Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. After all these preparations, they needed one more resource: an accompanist.

In this photo from 2005, Andrew is behind me, and Henry is to my left in a brown jacket

The harpsichord part involved standard classical techniques that any fellow student could play on the piano, but the performance required more than typical practice and rehearsal. The accompanist would need to follow unexpected variances in rhythm created by the non-traditional uses of the viola. Improvisation would accompany the sword fight. Throughout the piece, the accompanist would remain stoic during the violists’ antics and the audience’s laughter. When Andrew and Henry asked me to join them in their mirthful project, I happily accepted.

While Henry and Andrew used a hacksaw as if it were a bow to play and destroy a child-sized violin, I gained more than experience in accompanying and performance. The sound of wood cracking planted seeds for my explorations of electroacoustic music in graduate school at Stony Brook University. Our discussions of how to present the unorthodox piece with unusual materials would become a model for working with visual artist David Irving Weiner to create alchemic videos and installations in New York. It was a joy to come alongside Andrew and Henry as they expanded the repertoire our school community was accustomed to hearing.

A classical music industry where anyone can belong continues to be my vision. If you are seeking inclusivity in an upcoming performance or teaching project, book a free 15-minute session to discuss collaborating with me.

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