Journey of 100

Chaconne #12 – Sunday January 13, 2013

Private performance, Orangeburg, NJ.

This evening was a most wonderful experience, a perfect expression of what I am hoping to accomplish with the Journey of 100 performances.  Our Host and Hostess thoughtfully invited 14 or so of their good friends, from different paths in their lives, including their daughter-in-law who will be delivering a wonderful baby in approximately three weeks.  According to Mom, Baby loved the performance and was dancing away!

Everyone in the group had a chance to introduce themselves and describe their role on our Hosts’ lives, and then the music began.  The notion of Journey through Music had such powerful resonance for each and every person there, and that made me happy.

What pulled it all together was yet another creative accomplishment: a vast buffet dinner with homemade Italian and Italian-influenced culinary wonders!  No kidding, this was just a like a variation on what was depicted in the film “Babette’s Feast”!

As for me and the music, I certainly enjoyed playing for these wonderful people.  I was using a brilliant violin made in 1776 by Antonio Gragnani – an instrument that I am not completely familiar with, it being on a limited loan to me from David Segal Violins, Ltd.  The tension and sounding manner of the instrument itself is considerably different than my own, and handling the multiple voices was, shall we say,  challenging – a few more weeks with the fiddle would have been perfect.  


One Comment

  1. SF, CPA
    Posted January 17, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Dear Shem: I am compelled to reiterate the great joy I experienced from your music. You obviously have spent many long and difficult hours practicing your craft. You deserve to feel extremely proud of the skill you have developed. In time we will look forward to another opportunity to hear you thanks so very much for a wonderful performance

Chaconne #11 – Meditation Group, Nyack NY

A very gratifying experience for me, and the listeners as well, I believe.  There were about a dozen people who had prepared for the performance through Yoga and guided Meditation.

Performance was good…my work done a week or so ago on the ending (mentioned previously) really has held and shaped it well.  I think I want to work through the first and second sections with a very defined rhythmic groove  and see if it focuses the form a bit better.  I suspect that as I have been exploring freedom in the variations I may be losing power from focussing the flow.

A great way to end a day that started with the Dress Rehearsal of Berlioz’ Les Troyens – all 5.5 hours of it!





One Comment

  1. Judith Rose
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Our riverfront room was lit only by a spray of candlelight. A large votive was placed in the center representing the ritual fire. Here was the Stillpoint. My students had spent sixty minutes engaging in lyrical, fluid movement patterns that progressively brought them into a deeper state of “awakedness”, attunement, and meditative openness. At the end of the movement hour, their bodies formed “rays of moonlight” around the center fire, as they lay on their yoga mats, feet toward the fire, their physical comfort supported with bolsters, blankets, and eye pads.

    I led Shem into the room in silence. He took his place inside the Stillpoint, quietly lifted his bow, and began playing/living the “Chaconne”. The notes of the music wafted overhead, but the echoes of Bach’s heart vibrated in my bones. I felt entered by the music. The immediacy and intimacy dangled me on the edge between ecstasy and exquisite agony. Breathing into my own heart helped me to stay with it. Eyes closed, the portal to my limbic brain opened. I was not judging the music. I was inside the music.

    After a while, it seemed like three or four violinists were playing alongside Shem, and yet, when I forced my heavy lids to open for a moment, a solo player on a solo violin stood before me. I remembered learning that Pagannini had been accused of working alongside the devil when he played. It suddenly did not feel ludicrous. Only here we were in the realm that clearly belonged to angelic entities.

    When the Chaconne ended, we sat in a circle and shared responses. It was extraordinary to hear how each woman had been touched deeply by the music, by the violin, by the physical proximity of musician to listener/collaborator, by Bach himself.

    Judith Rose, Founder of Vital Movement™.

Chaconne #10 – The Players Benefit Concert

Nice intimate audience; great colleagues on this program organized by guitarist Sean Harkness, who was a wonderfully supporting colleague to me, singer Carole Demas, pianist Ian Herman, singer/guitarist Ellis Paul and a curiously funny comic whose stage name is even curioser: Brute Force

I was very pleased with the flow of a number of segments of the Chaconne: the  three-tones on A sequence (in the major section) and the build to the end from the return to D minor where I was really able to hold back and hold back and then release the stored anticipation.  Additionally the most difficult variations to play three voices as independent musical lines  – the dotted rhythms right at the beginning – started to show the work I have been putting in on them.

The notion of repetition seeking depth and center of the great work seemed to have a lot of resonance with our listeners. 

December 3, 2012 7 PM at  The Players

16 Gramercy Park, NY NY 


  1. Ann Vellis
    Posted December 4, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Shem, Thank you for such a magical performance at The Players last night.
    The center of the music may not exist. I believe the core is in the perpetuity of the piece.
    Would love to chat with you more about this.

  2. Shem
    Posted December 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    For your information, everyone, Ann is speaking about my seeking to explore/find the “center” of the piece, the center of the circle, something I spoke about to the audience before playing. Ann the idea of the core = perpetuity of the work is fascinating, thank you for your thoughts!

  3. Nichole Donje'
    Posted December 5, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Hi Shem,

    Thank you so much for the wonderful performance. It was incredible to see you do what you do and so obviously love.

    I found myself exploring the piece in segments, for me it was about 15. As as actor and director, my mind thinks in story and works to find an arc of, if not actual story, the emotion. I was most moved by what was for me segments 2, 5, 6, and 13. I can’t tell you what they are for you – but there were distinct shifts between them.

    Those were places where I found the exploration going deeper, taking me to the next plane or even somehow cradling me…if that makes any sense?

    Thank you for sharing your work and for allowing me to be a part of it in this way. What a wonderful idea!


  4. Shem
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Nichole, there is most certainly a dramatic arc within the work, and it is in fact, essential for the player/interpreter to think in those terms. Moreover, I have started to perform the 4 stylized dance movements that precede the Chaconne as part of my performances in Journey, because I have come to understand them as setting up “questions” which eventually find “answers” in the Chaconne, and feel them as one interlinked work.

    For me it is natural to think of them as questions regarding life, existence and humanity…one can imagine Bach (who saw himself very much as kindred spirit with Sir Isaac Newton – a Devout man whose work in Science more fully articulated God’s presence on Earth) mulling such things while “drawing in” these amazing tones…anyway, I can, and it doesn’t matter anyway since the music is beautiful regardless as to our specific thoughts!

Chaconne #9 – Private performance, Nyack, NY

It was nice to be able to plug back into this world amidst the weeks of opera (and Firebird rehearsals for Sunday’s upcoming Carnegie Hall Concert with the orchestra). I prepped a bit in the afternoon, starting with the last section (return to d minor).  The location was somewhat overly resonant, so tempos had to be scaled down accordingly.  Today I explored pulling more directly (harmonic rhythm)  from the 3rd beat into the 1st beat of the measures in a number of the variations.  I think one could organize this sort of treatment (and others) into a distinct vocabulary…all part of an in-the-moment set of creative options.

The first two dotted rhythm variations were good (where balancing each line as an independent voice with its own continuity) – they seem to have developed on their own without a lot of additional attention from me in practice.

Chaconne #8 – Private performance, Bridgeport, Connecticut

#8)  Better than last night. Still need to craft a better working method for developing the right internal balance between rhythmic groove and rhythmic freedom.  Nice to play the same work, with the same bow and violin, in a larger more sound-friendly space.   A moving experience for my audient.


  1. Yenoin Guibbory
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Shem for a performance I will always remember. The occasion, being a part of personal life-changing events, was one only you could have given. The opening of the Bach was spacious yet metrically clear; the dance-based movements rendered clearly so; the chaconne inexorable and transformational – certainly to this listener. Hearing you perform in a space redolent with the memories of dearly departed was a wonderous, magical experience. I can only wish the same for other listeners along this journey.

  2. Shem
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Folks, Yenoin was my very first violin teacher. Two of the earliest exercises I remember are ones he gave me: playing single notes against the adjacent open string -teaching me to listen to the difference tones – and then applying that to playing perfect fifths and fourths. Not only does is technique required in the Chaconne, it also was one of the things that first amazed Steve Reich when he heard me play: he finally found a violinist that could play perfect fifths and fourths in perfect tune! Amazing indeed.

    Thank you Yenoin, I love you.