The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: “Bach Around the Clock” will mark Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday on March 20 with 12 hours of live performances in Madison

February 15, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

If you are one of the many, many people who love the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below) and who play it, as a hobby or a profession, Cheryl Dring wants you.

Dring, the music director for Wisconsin Public Radio and the weekday host of “Morning Classics” from 9 to 11 a.m., has come up with the event “Bach Around the Clock.”

On Saturday, March 20th, from noon until midnight, people will gather at the Pres House, 731 University Ave., to perform works by Johann Sebastian Bach. (Pres House, below right)  is a campus ministry and likes getting students involved.)

Bach was born on March 21st in 1685, so people will “Bach Around the Clock” and ring in his 325th birthday at the stroke of midnight.  Serving a birthday cake at the end is planned.

Although Wisconsin Public Radio is co-sponsoring the community celebration with Pres House, Dring is emphatic: “This is NOT a radio broadcast,” she says. “So amateurs, professionals, students, individuals, ensembles, choirs … everyone is invited. If you love Bach, we’d love for you to perform.”

You don’t have to play from memory. You can use music. And you can play fragments or movements from suites or single pieces. And you can make mistakes.

Plus, Dring adds that, “All kinds of Bach is acceptable. If we have some non-classical musicians who wanted to do a non-classical version of a Bach piece – jazz or folk or rock  — it’s OK. As long as it’s Bach, we’re there. Whatever you’ve got, we want to hear it.”

“This is not a professional showcase,” Dring adds. “So don’t be shy.”

Indeed, some have already come forward. Keyboard player and conductor Trevor Stephenson (below) of the Madison Bach Musicians and Edgewood College has promised to kick things off.  The Wisconsin Chamber Choir has also agreed to participate. And Dring has spoken to some faculty members at the UW School of Music.

But she is also looking for those amateurs and students who are playing a Two-Part Invention or Little Prelude.

It sounds like a long time to fill, but Dring thinks she can schedule 12 hours of continuous music. So, she says, whether you have one piece or several – “join in!”

For more information or to schedule your performance, contact Dring (below) at or call (608) 890-2585. E-mail is probably the best way to sign up, she adds, and there is no deadline.

Organists have been lined up to take shifts performing.

“The idea is that if we can pull it off, it will be seamless,” says Dring, who herself may sing for the event.

Pres House has a good piano and an organ, she says. The Ear bets that will attract some church organists from around the area. After all, Bach loved the King of Instruments.

How did Dring come up with the idea?

“I try to steal only from the best,” Dring recalls. A native of New Orleans, she explains that Bach’s birthday was an annual 24-hour event at a large Episcopal Church in the Big Easy — and she took part by singing.

“It brought together a great variety of people,” she says, “from kids with two-part invention to world-class performers.”

“It’s more fun because you’re not worried about radio broadcast quality. You can make mistakes,” she adds. “It’s all about the works, the music. And it is fun. I loved that the church was open for 24 hours. Some people would bring in sleeping bags and stretch pout on a pew and stay for the whole thing. Others just popped in during a lunch break. Still others wandered in and out.

“We decided to try 12 hours this time to give it every opportunity to succeed the first year,” Dring adds.

Plus, she hopes there might be a way to webcast the event with live streaming of the performances so people around the state can share in the event, and pop and out of the virtual “church.”

So, how is the line-up going so far?

“We’ve already got some people lined up and have heard from quite a few people,” Dring says. “We’re counting on the viral nature of it.”

“Ideally,” she adds, “in future years it will be 24 hours long. And we would love it if we had T-shirts. I’d love for it to develop a cult following.”

Adds Dring: “I don’t think you can have too much Bach.”

*                                             *                                           *

What do you think of the idea of “Bach Around the Clock”?

Do you plan to play at it?

To attend and listen?

Dring wants to know.

And The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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