Journey of 100

Chaconne #21 – December 17, 2013 Jackson Heights Jewish Center

7:00 Holiday Concert at the Jackson Heights Jewish Center, Queens

I have played this seasonal concert for many years and it is always great fun  – so many wonderful people from the neighborhood show up, and the programs are always interesting!   A really fine Tango segment (singer Chris Vasquez and pianist Cesar Vuksic), Arabic music (including Simon Shaheen’s Alhambra Trio which we commissioned a number of years ago for A Night at the Alhmabra Café), which I performed with Rex Benincasa, Tar  and Carlo Valte, Oud), Tangos, music by James Primosh (beautiful piano solo Ryan MacEvoy McCullough and singing from Judy Kellock.  

I played the Chaconne following the last movement from the Messaien Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps, it was a good pairing.  The room we were playing in had very dry sound, so I had to speed the tempos slightly. Having done three or four of these performances in the last couple of weeks, it was pretty easy to drop into a somewhat mind-less space and allow the music to flow.  

We were fortunate to have the services of a spanish translator – one of the staff at the Jewish Center – so that the spanish-speaking audience members would know clearly that I was asking the listeners to participate with me in this Journey of 100  – to come to our website here and write their experiences – I hope we get some comments.

Chaconne #20 – December 8, 2013 – private home

for colleagues and friends.  This performance was a good one – I was happy with the spirit and mood I was able to create; I had to keep substituting listening deeply for thinking, for mental activity.    I worked a lot at exploring many places for playing at soft dynamic levels, leaving the higher levels for the most important emotional and spiritual moments. 

A funny thing was that in the afternoon I had to decide if I was going to cook dinner (we were hosting the evening) or practice – and I decided to cook and work on the music in my mind and body while cooking.  A good choice, so it seems.


  1. Mark Nelson
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    thinking about Shem’s performance of the Bach d-minor Partita on December 8. . . .

    1. On the one hand, it’s about exquisitely nuanced,

    You, and JSB, venture down so many alluring, asymmetrically unfolding paths.
    Sometimes these veer off unexpectedly in unusual directions.
    Sometimes they are a matter of tenderness taking its sweet time.
    Sometimes they seem bold and reckless.
    These narrative streams evince a remarkable thinking/feeling mind, one capable of speaking in modes of Jamesian complexity and sensitivity.

    We begin plainly enough. But then we digress, and extend, and observe anew; we weave, pause, extemporize, re-cast, discover, reflect. A daunting magisterial process, one blending imaginative caprice and stern rigor, blooms.

    Thematic materials, textures, sentences unfold,
    according to the dictates of an irrepressible logic,
    into paragraphs that resist closure–
    elegant, colorful not-quite-self-contained structures
    whose late moments suggest new possibilities.
    Their refusal to conclude neatly suggests an abiding yearning,
    a striving to intimate, and instantiate, sublimity.

    2. On another hand, it’s about _non-thought_.
    Or perhaps _non-verbal_ thought!
    Words fail, crash, in one’s attempts to evoke the experience of listening to your performance of this piece.

    I am struck by how all-consuming this experience was–by the extent to which I felt so wholly inside of it; by the pregnancy of the long silence attending the performance’s conclusion; and by the inadequacy–perhaps the very incommensurate nature–of my earnest but paltry efforts, then and now, to articulate that experience.

    What does it mean to be truly present for a moment of experience?
    Is it a pre-rational immediacy, one that follows and absorbs experience before the mind has time to filter it?
    Or–and this is my struggle right now–have the partita’s sounds triggered a deep-seated mechanism–a product of genetics, training, sensibility–that intimately monitors, tracks, and flows with an abiding, ever-metamorphosing awareness of the rich sonic metamorphoses continually emergent?

    All-consuming indeed! One traces these sublimely coherent, ebullient trajectories–sonic flights which, replete with anomalies (daring forays into unanticipated keys, novel twistings of motivic material, uncanny interpolations of new ideas), threaten coherence; but in their subsequent workings-out, these reveal and secure an unfathomably rich new coherence–and in so doing it seems that one is being shown a parallel thought-dimension, one that exists next to, or before, or closely bound to, verbal thought.

    3. This performance was about _color_.

    String doublings, wide-ranging gradations of bow pressure and speed, subtle _sul tasto_ shiftings, adjustments in the amount of bow hair allowed to engage the strings–
    these combined both to abet the complexity of the narrative and to lend a near-fantasia quality to the proceedings. You mentioned having learned from the color-shiftings deftly produced by an organist whose compelling Bach performances you recently discovered. Indeed, Bach organ fantasias and your traversal of the partita have much in common. One imaginatively shapes a constellation of timbres, infusing the performance thereby with a sense of play, of keen exploration and discovery. And the relationships unfolding among these lavishly nuanced sounds further the music’s remarkable rhetorical substance.

    4. What about the repeats?
    I yearn to hear the repeats, of each half of the first four dance movements.
    In its depth and reach, this music needs (and wants!) to be weighed, absorbed, assimilated. It wants time to sink in. It wants time to be _heard_!

    (And what does this mean, _to be heard_?!
    My own hearing seems full of reflective processes.)

    I crave and savor the luxury of hearing and _re_-hearing.

    There are so many questions asked by each one of these dance movements. Would it be possible to take in and ponder these questions more slowly before moving on to the next ones?

    I was surprised to sense that I had been catapulted into the chaconne. I wasn’t ready for it. Wait! I’m still spinning with the gigue! What was that strange and cool shift in phrase structure and harmony in the second half of the allemande? The corrente was so fleeting, its rate of change so rapid; my auditory transmission is stripped! I need to make some adjustments, and–oh, here’s the intimate sarabande. . . .

    Self-contained and masterful as it is, the chaconne is the culminating movement of a suite of stylized dances. It’s a summation; a commentary. It offers some answers to questions posed in the preceding movements. I need time to absorb those questions, to adapt to the unique emotional and rhetorical world of each dance.

    5. Spirit; Circling Into the Depths of Soul

    (Keith Jarrett, admonishing his audience before launching into a concert last December:

    “Just listen.”)

  2. Posted December 10, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Well, I know the way… but I don’t have the loose change to use the bathroom… :))) but I’m sure it will be an event that can have a permanent and positive effect on the vibrations of one’s cells.Read more…

Chaconne #19 – Thanksgiving Day, 2013 (Nov. 28th)

Private performance for colleagues and family.   A beautiful event, in a warm living room with cathedral ceilings and a fireplace glowing.   The idea of this complete work being the story of a spiritual journey seemed more powerful than ever – to me, and from discussion afterwards, to our listeners as well.   

Somehow, with the increased familiarity with the work I am having trouble simultaneously accessing/realizing both the deep flow and the organizational frame…sinking into the world of the music and organizing the right pace and long, section phrasing.  I am going to try to study the score a bit without the violin (without playing it) and see if that helps for the next one. 

The technical changes I am making in the use of certain fingers on the right hand in order to gain more articulation and control of two and three voices at the same time is really starting to work – though when I lose it and fumble a passage it is not so easy to relax and sink back into the new mode…but it IS coming along!



  1. Wade Tonken
    Posted December 1, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    A most beautiful performance of one of my all time favorites. And, in my own living room! You have inspired me to revisit the piece on guitar. Thank you Shem!

  2. Barbara Scribano Wol
    Posted December 3, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Permalink


    Thank you for a wonderful performance, it was incredible! I have never experienced a solo violin, especially in a friends living room.

    My first reaction was that it sounded like many people playing at once, rather than only you. I’ll never forget it and wish I could hear it again.
    Let us know if you are cutting a CD of this, and thanks again.

    You also had my son’s attention and I know he listened the entire time, quite a feat.
    our best, Barbara

Chaconne #18 – PS K179 Brooklyn, NY

Well folks, I am really happy because tomorrow morning I am playing the Chaconne for approximately 150 5th grade Violin students at PS K 179 in Brooklyn.  I am performing courtesy of Principal Bernadette Amato, Director Toby Kasavan of Neighborhood Music and Arts  (who provides the music program for the school) and the children’s violin teacher Megan Berson.   Stand by for the results in the next few days!  


Well this turned out just great – we had terrific support from Principal Amato the classroom teachers Ms. Campili, Ms. Moshitz, Ms. Orlando, Ms. Pacheco-Vitulli, Ms. Durka, Mrs Dibella and Ms. Crass, as well as the children’s violin teach Ms. Berson.

The performance was pretty good, I had enough time to warm up. I used a new approach to rhythmic organization – really letting the time drive hard and build all the way through the first section into the major section, and then treat that section in a similar manner, only letting the third section meander and wander as it would.

It was very gratifying to feel the kids being with me the whole way through the Chaconne – a good 15 minutes of solid music.  As I anticipated, there was no problem whatsoever with their attention span.

Afterwards we were able to capture on video the most informative reactions of a number of individual students (I will edit them and post them here in few weeks).



  1. Posted November 25, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    You go Shem – Little moments such as this provide the components of character building and the inspiration that can save lives.

  2. Posted November 25, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Wishing you every blessing in this season. You are an amazing soul.

  3. daler
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    good song i like it

  4. daler naimanov
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    go shem go

  5. Noila Sattarova
    Posted November 25, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Thank You For coming to our school. I am in class 501. I liked this song because it felt to me like the people in the song were each telling what happened to them and how they felt when it happened to them. what I also liked was the parts where it was quiet and sometimes it wasn’t quiet. Thanks again for coming to our School!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Posted November 26, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Noila and Daler: thank you for writing me and sharing your experience with everyone. I thought you and your fellow students were a wonderful audience! Keep practicing, ok?

  7. imane
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    dear shem,
    I loved ur performance that u did in NOVEMBER 25,2013 I liked it so much it was a lot touching and it mad me cry and a few parts were romantic.

  8. Posted December 5, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    lucky kids, lucky you!

  9. Posted December 5, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Shem – can’t tell you how impt what you’re doing is. As a NJ high schooler, I was bused into the old Met opera rehearsals on Wed afternoons, and I have loved opera ever since.Read more…

Chaconne #17 – October 27, 2013 Private performance

5 P.M.   NY, NY

We were a lovely gathering of people, including one musician, in a beautiful apartment that was perfectly suited for live music; after the music we all sat together for quite some time sharing reactions and questions.  I noticed that there was a large degree of ease and comfort among the group of listeners for  silence,  which to me is a testament to the power of the music.

Our location was new to me, and I had decided that would arrive and just start playing, without excusing myself to another room to warm up…in lieu of the warm up I repeated the first part of the opening movement  (Allemande).  It sort of worked; however, in the future I will explore a warm up that is in effect an open improvisation that leads into the work itself.

I felt slow overall, but calm and attentive, so instead of pushing and driving the music arbitrarily, I simply relaxed and tried to open myself to the flow of the work, and let it come to me and take me where it wanted to go.  I also noticed that while in my preparation of the previous three of four days I did *not* run the whole work for continuity (probably would have been a good idea), the parts I did practice were really fine.  




  1. Posted October 29, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    and no one was running a video camera?

    • sgwp_a1
      Posted October 31, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      Michael that is a VERY interesting question: one of the approaches I am wanting to test out is to capture listeners’ reactions on video immediately after the music finishes and then edit them together and post…to explore that as an alternative mechanism to writing after-the-fact…thanks for your comment!

  2. Marsha
    Posted October 29, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Dear Shem,

    I just read your comment and it seems that you feel you were not at your best. I believe everyone that was here – certainly including me – thought it was terrific. For me it was a unique experience. The vibrations that i felt in my body brought me to a new understanding of classical music.

    Thank you, Marsha

    • sgwp_a1
      Posted October 31, 2013 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      Marsha, you are *most* welcome! I think what I was wanting to express was a preference for a performance more rhythmically “on-the-edge”, maybe more sharply organized is a better way to say it. What you write about vibrations in your body is *so* true, and is one of the characteristic elements of live, in-the-room performance…

  3. Rose Dimant
    Posted November 1, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Shem, thank you so much! This was a marvelous, transformative experience. At times I felt reflective and quite. Other times I felt exuberant and joyous, the way I feel when running in the surf. Combining the music and the sound of the ocean would be magical.

  4. Cassie Magzamen
    Posted November 3, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks a bundle, Shem & Marsha, for a unique & special evening. I’ve always felt that music is best experienced in smaller venues, and your playing, coupled with the intimacy of this gathering, provoked a range of feeling for me, from highs to lows / joy to almost tearing up. Also, I found the discussion afterward really thought provoking, and I’d love to host one of the hundred at my loft in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, & if you like, we can perhaps combine it with art &/or video for even more varied stimulation. Warm wishes.