Thursday, September 04, 2008

Gavotte II - J.S. Bach

After some higher-than-normal-pressure gigs last month, which necessitated many hours of practice, I am back to my repertoire to-do list. Currently, it looks like this (I usually only keep track of ten):

01] Gavotte II - J.S. Bach (A minor)
02] Bourree - Jethro Tull (D minor/Drop-D tuning)
03] Scherzo - G. Pepper (G major)
04] Mysterious Barricades - F. Couperin (C major)
05] Mood for a Day - Yes/Steve Howe (F-sharp flamenco)
06] Sonata - G. Pepper (A minor)
07] Jesu, Mein Freude - J.S. Bach (G major)
08] Toccata - G. Pepper (E minor)
09] Sleepers, Awake - J.S. Bach (D major/Drop-D tuning)
10] Fugue - G. Pepper (A minor)

My approach to this as been, for the last four years - this month is four years since I picked up the guitar after four years of not touching one - to learn one of my pieces, a standard classical repertoire piece, and then a contemporary "crowd pleaser" type of thing. I've done quite well for only four years back into the game, as I've learned 63 pieces in these 48 months, and my complete set is now +/- three hours in duration. The goal is to have 3.5 hours of music, as most of the dinner club and piano bar gigs I do want me there for four hours with a half-hour break.

I have my set organized into suites that go around the circle of thirds from A minor to A major, with pieces up to five sharps (G-sharp minor and B major) and three flats (C minor and E-flat major) mixed in to add some variety within the suites. At the beginning of each suite is a prelude I wrote - I've done fourteen so far: all of the sharp keys to B major plus F major and D minor) - and then one of my Axial Studies. After that, the pieces alternate between standard repertoire classical pieces and my stuff, and every set ends with a contemporary crowd pleaser, one of which is actually mine. Here's the list of crowd pleasers in order by suite:

1] A minor: Classical Gas - Mason Williams
2] C major: Desert Song - Eric Johnson (In A minor, as I never have found a crowd pleaser type of piece in C)
3] E minor: Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen
4] G major: A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani
5] B minor: Scherzo - George Pepper (This is the "classical" one from Sonata Zero)
6] D major: Eu So Quero Um Xodo - Dominguinhos (This entire suite uses drop-D tuning)
7] F-sharp minor: Mood for a Day - Yes/Steve Howe
8] A major: Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin/Jimmy Page (In A minor, obviously)

Additionally, the A minor suite has Joe Satriani's Tears in the Rain, the D major suite will have the Jethro Tull-ized version of the Bach Bourree I arranged - It's just like Jethro Tull for the A section, but I did the same syncopated treatment for the B section as well: it totally kicks ass) - and the final suite in A major also has Chet Atkins' Yankee Doodle Dixie in it. So, as you can see, I have only two of the crowd pleasers left to learn - Bourree and Mood for a Day - and along with the Scherzo in G major - the jazz counterpoint piece from Sonata One - this will complete all of the pieces for the Heavy Nylon CD I'm working toward. My tune Heavy Nylon is, by the way, the finale or encore piece for the set.

With only five pieces left on my to-do list before I've learned all of the crowd pleasers and Heavy Nylon pieces, I'm getting pretty psyched. Over the past four years I've gotten pretty severely depressed at times just looking at the sheer volume of work ahead of me, but now there is actually light at the end of this tunnel I've been in since September of 2004.

Not only that, but when the last crowd pleaser is out of the way, I'll only be alternating between learning my pieces and standard repertoire classical pieces, so I'll be both catching up on the backlog of my stuff yet to learn, and finishing up on the CD of standard rep pieces I want to do, which will be called Electric Chestnuts.

They say time seems to pass faster as you grow older, but I have found a way to make time pass excruciatingly slowly if you are in your mid-forties to fifty: Compile a list of +/- 80 pieces of music you want to memorize, and get to work on it. LOL!

Yes, I memorize everything, and I reenforce it with very slow metronome practice, which I've mentioned here several times previously: You'll never catch me on stage with a music stand in front of me. Perhaps it's my former life as a rock and jazz player that is to blame, but I've always though sight-reading classical guitar music was completely impossible. I've met some amazingly good classical players, but none of them could really and truly sight-read like a monodic instrumentalist or a keyboardist can. And, since they can't really read having music on a music stand on stage when they perform strikes me as a bit pompous and, well, fraudulent.

My view of it is this: Standard music notation evolved to become tablature for organ and piano, and monodic instrumentalists and instruments with very limited polyphonic capacities, such as bowed string instruments, can use it OK, but the guitar is such a difficult idiom that sight-reading standard notation with it is like reading French, translating it into Mandarin in your head, and then reciting it aloud in English all at the same time. It is ridiculously difficult... which is why Baroque lutenists used lute tablature.

Anyway, I'm getting into one of my Epic Musical Musings digressions, but the new version of Encore I'm getting allows for guitar TAB under standard notation, and I plan on using it! From a practical standpoint, anything that makes the process of learning, memorizing, and performing guitar music easier, is valuable. As for composing, I think in standard notation. LOL!

At long last, here's today's piece:

As I've mentioned previously, I don't really like most of Bach's lute pieces, cello pieces, and violin pieces, and this is the very last lute suite piece I plan to learn. Gavotte I, for example, I positively can't stand. Most of Bach's music for solo instruments is so over-loaded with mechanically inefficient and quasi-improvisatory noodlings that I really can't even listen to it anymore. These tight, tiny little gems are all I like, and all I'll play of it. The one exception to this are his preludes, which are almost all great, but I write my own damn preludes, so I don't play any of his.

One piece of Bach's, the Bourree in B Minor from the violin sonatas and partitas, pissed me off so much I've actually re-composed the thing! I love the way it begins with the big strummed chords (in the guitar transcription), but a lot of the material in the middle of both the A and B sections is so mind-numblingly rambling that it just drove me insane. So, I just took the parts I liked and composed a completely new piece out of it. I call it, Bourree After Bach (Double entendre intentional). It's come out amazingly well by my reckoning, and is actually longer than the original, but I expect it will piss off all of the usual suspects who think Bach is sacrosanct. I actually look forward to those reactions. LOL!

Of the lute pieces, the only ones I play are the Sarabande in A minor from the same suite as this Gavotte, and the Bourree in E minor from the suite that is in that key for the guitar, and that's it: Only three pieces. I seriously do not like the rest of those suites, excepting the preludes, as I mentioned, and the lone fugue in A minor, which I may learn at some point, but it's a real bitch to play, and I have way more than enough pieces in A minor.

For the Sarabande in A minor, I completely ditched the traditional fingering and used my own fingering that gives as much over-ring as is possible: Just bucket-loads of sounding seconds and thirds. This turns an already strange and wonderful little piece into something positively spooky, especially when played on electric nylon string with the detune chorus and hall reverb I use for that suite's "virtual acoustic environment." I also use harmonics near the end of the B section (where the notorious super-wide stretches are), and this gives a really creepy effect that I just love, in addition to making that section easier to execute (all the over-ring fingerings make it more difficult, however).

So, since the Sarabande is the third piece in my A minor suite, and this Gavotte will be the seventh, I wanted to harken back to those over-ring effects I cultured earlier with this piece. The resulting fingering makes the interpretation a really cool, colorfully dissonant, and sorta/kinda impressionistically-blurry take on the thing in places. I like it a lot, but then, I'm an iconoclast and a philistine.

Though I'm about 95% certain of the left hand fingerings, the right hand stuff will probably change considerably as I work the piece up: They always do. As for the unorthodox placement of the finger numbers, when the notation is this tight - I wanted to keep it all on one page - this older version of Encore's minimum text box size makes the numbers clash and blot each other out. Sorry about that.


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