Music Monday: Bach in the Subways

Every year for Bach’s birthday a spontaneous, global community of musicians unites to sow the seeds for future generations of classical music lovers and share their joy and inspiration for their artform.

The power and beauty of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music consistently transcend social and musical boundaries and inspire deep appreciation and strong emotion. Yet sadly, in many countries audiences for Bach’s music, and classical music in general, continue to shrink.

In 2010, convinced this decline was because most people never experience live classical music, cellist Dale Henderson began frequent performances of Bach’s Cello Suites in the subways of New York City.

Feeling the experience was infinitely more powerful with money removed from the equation, Dale declined donations and instead offered audiences free postcards explaining that his intentions were to sow the seeds for future generations of classical music lovers.

His efforts, which he called “Bach in the Subways,” attracted appreciative attention from fans, other musicians, and the media.

Here’s a CNN report on Dale Henderson from 2010:

For Bach’s 326th birthday on March 21, 2011, Dale invited other musicians to join him. The Bach in the Subways movement was born.

Every March the movement grew – from a single cellist playing alone in New York’s subways into a global phenomenon. By Bach’s 330th in 2015 thousands of musicians in 150 cities in 40 countries offered Bach’s music freely in public spaces, and now every year for Bach’s birthday musicians unite to bring Bach to people around the world.

There are four core elements to a Bach in the Subways performance:

  1. The music of J.S. Bach is performed anywhere, any time.
  2. The performance is open & accessible to all – a musical gift for anyone who wants to hear it.
  3. No admission fee is required, no money is accepted by the performers, and no other commercial transactions occur immediately before, during, or after the performance.
  4. No musician is ever charged to perform for Bach in the Subways.

Here’s a 2019 performance from the Philadelphia subway at Jefferson Station by Philadelphia Orchestra cellist Bob Cafaro:

Unfortunately, I have never had the chance to witness a Bach in the Subway performance, in fact, I just heard about it for the first time last week.

It’s a wonderful idea to bring classical music out of the concert hall and onto the streets.

Hearing about this program and watching the videos above reminded me of when I happened to catch the Drumadics playing in the New York subway a few years ago:

While the subway may not have the acoustics or the cachet of Carnegie Hall, there is something special about watching a musical performance in such a gritty setting.

While Bach in the Subway is officially over for 2019, there’s nothing to stop you from listening to a little Bach until next year. I’ll end with one of Bach’s most famous pieces, his Cello Suite No.1 in G:

*image from Dale Henderson Music

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