Journey of 100

Chaconne #14 – Private Concert NY NY

This performance was part of a larger program of chamber music at the home of two wonderful music lovers on the West Side.

I was bugged that I did not have time in our pre-performance rehearsal to run the opening a few times – but in fact it started out ok. Over the last month or so of *not* playing the piece (Wagner’s Ring operas and Handel Julius Ceasare at the MET) the independence, clarity and flow of the bass line in the theme and the first dotted-rhythm variations has taken shape.

The overall Arch of the work felt intact: kept the first section cadence in d minor from being too big and felt that the cadence in D major had it rightful peak – leaving me lots of room to unwind the energy and dynamic in the return to the minor. I also tried whipping the tempo back in the groove at mm149 and that seemed to work as well.

There were a number of fascinating comments from listeners afterwards that I hope will appear on this blog – comments about Divinity of Mathematics (Newton), and “…the human, spiritual tumblers aligning…” words to that effect.

6 responses to “Chaconne #14 – Private Concert NY NY”

  1. Andrew says:

    Pure mathematicians fall in two camps…those who believe they are discovering divine structures laid out by God and those (like myself) that believe that mathematics is a very human projection of humanity onto a limitless universe. When I heard Shem play the Chaconne last night I first became deeply meditative and then began to consider Bach’s almost timeless singular genius. The space and musical possibilities unlocked in the arches of the music were staggering and could well make one think of a full organ work, but ultimately to me the work signified the awesome power of human creation. Bach opened many doors for the first time. Shem’s playing was entrancing.

  2. it is to bad that i missed it.

  3. Nancy commented on Shem Guibbory:

    An extraordinary composition played with remarkable artistry. At first I found myself moved literally to tears.Read more…

  4. Nancy says:

    An extraordinary composition played with remarkable artistry. At first I found myself moved literally to tears. And as the playing progressed I was amazed at the patterns being spun, morphing beyond the repititions. As another audience member remarked, and I agreed, the music actually seemed edgy and modern. What a great treat to hear. Thanks for your virtuoso performance, which gave me a newly found respect for Bach.

  5. Charles Adelman says:

    Shem: Where to begin? With a paradox. How can the same work be both profoundly sad and incredibly joyous? How can it engender both tears and elation at the same time? I think it is because this towering work of genius communicates something essential about what it means to be human, about the human spirit. It makes us dream about the perfectibility of humanity, of what mankind is capable of achieving. I think I told you that hearing this music is like experiencing tumblers falling into place in a great celestial lock, or like perceiving the solution to a great equation of the universe. I do believe that the brain is prewired in some fundamental way, that there are networks of neurons that able to respond to the mathematical possibilities embodied in the frequencies of sound, that perhaps there is an unspoken language that we are evolving towards, and that we respond so deeply to works like the Chaconne because they express our deepest yearnings in that language that we may some day understand. What would happen if everyone on earth heard this music at the same time . . . .?

  6. shem says:

    Wow thank you everyone, for these beautiful words! I should add that in this performance I did feel successful, for the most part, in “emptying my mind” and allowing the music to “play me”, as it were…and your responses are encouraging to me: they suggest that the notion behind my Journey of 100 is truly meaningful. Sincerely, with appreciation for All,


Chaconne #13 – LaGuardia High School for Music and Art

Good morning everyone! If all the technology is correct this will go out to all of you who are my Facebook friends – I hope you will take a minute and to read this and check out  my new website.

As part of my Journey of 100 performances of this amazing piece of music (Chaconne for Solo Violin) I am performing this morning at LaGuardia High School for Music and Art, a wonderful school in NYC where many many musicians and artists received their early training.

It is challenging to keep this performance project moving during recent weeks at the MET where we are in the midst of presenting a number of LONG and hard operas (e.g. an amazing rendering of Parsifal tonite, for example, at 6 PM) Daniele Gatti and a once-in-a-lifetime cast).  But WORTH every ounce of my sweat equity.

After today’s performance of the Bach at LaGuardia I will log in my performance comments here, and hopefully we will also read some of the reactions of the students as well.


Well it was an *early* morning for me – rain and NYC traffic delays left me arriving right on time after parking – and with no time to warm up… it was wonderful to walk into a room with 100+ kids who were totally engaged and participated fully with me as I warmed up in front of them and performed the work.

I told them about what I was hoping to accomplish with this journey of 100 performances, in particular focussing on the development and perfection of a technique of playing Bach’s music with 2 and sometimes three clearly distinct voices.

Starting out with hands and arms cold, not warmed up, puts you in the position of having to sort of go with the flow of your body while at the same time seeking to “sink into” the music. Sometimes I can just empty my mind and then Spirit just takes over – but not this morning! None the less, judging from comments made live there from the students, I was successful in getting the music and the ideas across.

After I played one of the co-leaders of their orchestra got up and played the first page of the Chaconne. We worked together as I showed him ways to use his bow – without changing his fundamental approach – that would begin to develop his ability to create a distinctly clear Bass voice, and two varying upper voices – this instead of just playing chords. Clearly a very hard-working and devoted violinist, he was open, receptive and able to execute the fundamental ideas. His colleagues were thoroughly supportive, participatory and warm! They clearly love and admire him greatly, and it was easy to see why.

I am still hoping that some students will find their way to leave us some comments, because their reactions in the room were terrific.

My thanks to the Faculty and Administration of LaGuardia High School for Music and Art for making this event come together!


3 responses to “Chaconne #13 – LaGuardia High School for Music and Art”

  1. Rose says:

    it sounds like you are continually successful . this is still the most rewarding way to make music . give all the schools this special experience !

    of course I am human, never doubted it

  2. Paula Washington says:

    Thank you for sharing the Bach Chaconne with the students and faculty of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts last Wednesday, February 27th. The students are still discussing their experience. Even though the audience was made up of instrumental music majors, the non-string players were amazed to learn of the possibilities of the violin. As some remarked, it sounded as if more than one violinist was playing. One piano major was astonished to learn that fugues could be played on a violin, even though he is learning violin as his minor instrument. I am sure that some of those whose eyes were opened had heard recordings of the Chaconne and just assumed that two or three people were playing. This underlines the importance of live performance!

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 response to “Chaconne #12 – Sunday January 13, 2013”

  1. SF, CPA says:

    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 response to “Chaconne #11 – Meditation Group, Nyack NY”

  1. Judith Rose says:

    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 

4 responses to “Chaconne #10 – The Players Benefit Concert”

  1. Ann Vellis says:

    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 says:

    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' says:

    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 says:

    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!