Journey of 100

If one were to choose one single work that stands out among the rich repertoire for Solo Violin, generation after generation, it could well be the Chaconne by J.S. Bach.  It is a piece that suggests endless depth and profundity.

I am setting out on a journey of discovery: I want to learn how my understanding of this work will develop through the process of performing it 100 times in a row.  These performances will be in normal public venues (the first was at Lincoln Center in May 2012) but also they will be for small groups of interested listeners, colleagues and friends with whom I can explore deeper levels of communication and connectivity. [read more]

Chaconne #39 – Private performance, Sag Harbor, NY – October 13, 2018


Chaconne #40 – Utica College, October 17, 2018 12:30 PM

Program opens with Schumann Sonata #1 in a, Op. 105, with Sar-Shalom Strong, Piano

Utica College Jackson Lunch Hour Series. 12:30P.M.


Chaconne #41 – December 2018 date tba – Private performance NYC


Chaconne #38 – Bennington College, August 11, 2017

I am looking forward to re-connecting with this work that I performed last week with the painters in Tim and Lala’s art studio. Tonight is for a few friends, old and new.

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Tonite was one of the performances for which I did not specially prepare, as I have been working hard all week for the Conference.  My focus was to just let go, and allow the piece to play itself, so to speak.   The hall  without people is very resonant, and I found myself just allowing the tones to have lots of time, so the rhythmic framework was quite free.  I am not sure this is good, nor am I sure it is bad.  I also noticed that a few little errors have crept in here and there and they need to be given some “discipline” to get them back in line.

My next step is to find a way to take my playing of the work from where it is now (pretty good) to a much higher level;  how to do that is not yet clear to me.

2 Comments

  1. Karl Doty
    Posted August 12, 2017 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    I just listened to Shem’s 38th Bach performance on his road to 100 in a darkened hall on the campus of Burlington college – 9:30 pm. A light rain began outside during the performance.

    This is an inspired and inspiring project. I tried to come to the concert with no expectations or preconceived ideas of what to listen for.

    With Shem’s dual goals of attaining 100 performances as well as, over time, losing his sense of ‘being the performer’ of the music, you experience that as a performer, Shem is listening with very open and curious ears. Often in performing, Bach’s solo music, we can analyze and affix rigid ideas to passages and the ideas can tend to take center stage while we lose some of our sensitivity to all of the actual sounds of the music in the moment.

    The most special moments of the performance, for me, were the normal, simple music – in between pyrotechnic passagework. This is where the sense of constant patient listening was most thrilling.

    The majority of the performance was listened to with my eyes closed. The music was beautiful and I didn’t think of the performance at all – just listened to the music. I’d say that’s mission accomplished. Thank you, Shem!

  2. Louise A. Lerner
    Posted August 15, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much, Shem, for giving us the opportunity to share in this journey with you.

    It was interesting to hear the Chaconne in the context of the entire partita (and I particularly liked the third movement) — but nothing even comes close to having the emotional impact of the Chaconne itself.

    I had wondered about the choice of venue, but it turned out to be perfect. Despite the size of the hall, the performance felt very intimate. Sitting there in the dark, with my eyes closed most of the time, I felt surrounded by the power and beauty of the music in the resonance of the hall.

    This music has such majesty, and yet is also so very personal. It gives one hope for the world, even in its current dismal state.

    When I did open my eyes, and watched you standing there barefoot in the spotlight, pouring your heart and soul into your playing, it nearly brought me to tears. This is what music is all about!

    Thank you, Shem, for a beautiful performance and an unforgettable experience!


Chaconne #37 – August 2, Art New England program

A live performance for a session at Art New England, “The Mark and Beyond…” taught by ANE faculty Timothy Hawkesworth and Lala Zeitlyn.

This performance for their painting students, is one in which we explore how the live performance of the Chaconne will facilitate the artists’ access to individual creative places in their own bodies.  (Teaching this access is part of the expertise that Tim and Lala bring to their students).  Performed in their teaching studio at Bennington College, VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts) center.

We anticipate that the results of the artists’ work (photos) will be posted here in the blog at the end of this week.  Please check back with us on Sunday August 7th!

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This was a breathtaking experience for me.  The sound of the two studio rooms was something close to perfection, and had a profound influence on my pace of playing the music  – more freedom in time, more freedom in inflecting the music with intensity, with “emptiness”, and colors of sound.  We collected many shots of the artists’ work, and once we get a chance to process them I will share some here.

2 Comments

  1. Pearl Rosenberg
    Posted August 3, 2017 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    Dear Shem,

    It has taken the rest of the day to put verbal language to the experience of drawing with you playing the Chaconne in Lala & Tim’s workshop this morning. The first thrilling moments of the piece seemed to accompany me in my drawing of our very much alive and generous model who was dancing in response to the music—the music of Bach! Inspired by the good fortune to be present for such communion, I pour some drops of water onto my drawing paper and the rich, dark tones of your violin seem to take root within my drawing, making the marks of my sepia crayon move gracefully across the page. But this seemingly easy and blessed beginning was not to be sustained. Although I continue to make numerous quick drawings on multiple pages of my drawing tablet, I am at the same time aware that I am feeling more robot-like in my efforts. I soon become aware that my attention is being pulled between wanting to focus on your performance and needing to focus on my drawing. I proceed to move in closer to the drawing, but almost immediately feel pulled to attend to the music. The push-pull of listening and looking is making it impossible to keep eye, mind, hand, heart, soul and ears in balance. I then see an image in my mind of the un-centered clay beginning to fly off the potter’s wheel. My mind wanders to how the model is doing this, how you, Shem, are doing this, how my studio mates are doing this. At the moment I think I might not want to do this anymore, you move slowly away from where I am drawing in one studio into the connecting studio space, continuing to play your violin as you walk. You and your violin have now “turned the corner”—the music is now in the background and I immediately regret wishing it gone. Shortly after this loss, I realize that the music becomes difficult to “hear” (figuratively now as well as literally), for I am hearing strains of sadness and anxiety in some of the bars. I write in the corner of one small drawing “NO CLOSURE.” The music seems to be on a speeding train making no stops.
    Toward the end of the piece, as if by magic, I become aware that 3 drawings seem to have appeared in my pile. Without even realizing it, I had changed from water crayon to water pencil and now see images that look as if I had merely breathed them into being. Surprisingly, I don’t even remember making them. By focusing on the music once and for all, the drawings just showed up. Tim speaks often of getting out of your own way as an artist in order to “allow for the visitation,” where drawings show up unexpectedly. So thank you for this opportunity to be reminded of this art-affirming practice, as well as the opportunity to co-create with you—a life-affirming practice. Pearl

  2. sgwp_a1
    Posted August 3, 2017 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Pearl thank you for your generous words. The process you describe, of getting out of your own way, sometimes by “passing through” difficult and conflicting thoughts and feelings, is indeed the sort of experience that takes us the the place of empty mind, through which Source can more easily flow.

    I encounter that sort of conflict frequently, as do many musicians, when there is too much mental effort, or too many distracting thoughts as we play. In this performance I felt something like that in the 4th section of music, the Gigue, when I was in the other studio – my mind wanting to control and direct the fingers to make sure I “did it right”. Once I got into the last segment, the Chaconne itself, that disappeared.