Origins of the "BachScholar" Name
In this essay, Dr. Hall explains how the BachScholar name originated and its relevance today.
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I often get asked where the name BachScholar came from as well as other questions regarding its connotations. Here is a bullet list of explanations that I hope answers any questions readers may have, in addition to giving a little background about my musical upbringing:
- I have had a life-long interest in the music of J.S. Bach. I remember as a child in the early 1970s my favorite record was "Switched On Bach" which featured Bach's music performed on one of the earliest Moog synthesizers. I absolutely loved this album and must have played it hundreds of thousands of times over the 1970s. I began piano lessons at age 6 (in 1969) and remember the love of playing Bach's Two-Part Inventions, a couple of which were on my favorite album. I think I was around 9 or so before I could play some of Bach's Inventions pretty well. I also remember one of my favorite albums in the 1970s being a chamber orchestra's performance of G.F. Handel's Water Works Music. I believe I was simply wired from birth to enjoy Baroque music.
- In addition to the love of Bach's music, I also became fascinated with ragtime in the early 1970s especially during the "Ragtime Revival" at this time. This is why I have recorded so much ragtime on YouTube -- I simply have never become tired of practicing or playing ragtime! I admit that I have gone long periods of my professional life in which I barely played any ragtime at all (like two or three years at a time); however, something always inevitably brings me back to the music I grew up with in my formative years as a pianist. One of my favorite stories is that my father used to play some of Zez Confrey's pieces on our upright piano. (Confrey's style is actually "post-ragtime" but retains many rag elements.) My father (1934-2009) took piano lessons as a kid and learned such pieces as Dizzy Fingers, Kitten on the Keys, My Pet, and Greenwich Witch, which were all very popular with piano students in the 1940s. During the years of my birth up to around age 7, I literally had Zez Confrey's music implanted into my brain. My father was very rusty with his piano skills by this time; however, I remember dancing around the room whenever he tried to play Dizzy Fingers as a 5-year-old thinking he was the greatest pianist in the world! In fact, the main reason I requested piano lessons at age 6 was so that I could learn to play Dizzy Fingers. I think by around age 10 I could play it pretty well. I also remember playing Maple Leaf Rag for my 6th grade music class in school at age 13. One of my favorite things to do was to sight-read new Joplin rags from my big, thick Scott Joplin book. To this day, I attribute my excellent sight-reading skills to my reading and playing of ragtime in my formative years. I am a better sight-reader than probably 98% of pianists. My sight-reading abilities have always been quite extraordinary.
- While in graduate school at the University of Kansas working on my D.M.A. degree (Doctor of Musical Arts, 1994) in piano as well as a second M.M. (Master of Music, 1994) degree in historical musicology, I developed my theory of tempo in Bach's music. This was life-changing for me and I still to this day am 100% certain I at this time discovered one of Bach's "trade secrets" that only he knew about. Bach was a very private and secretive composer and I believe that in July, 1992 -- when I had my "Bach tempo revelation" -- I discovered a very important aspect of Bach's compositional process that he revealed to nobody and had never been discovered before by scholars. Still to this day, I can say with 100% certainty and with no degree of "arrogance" that I am the only scholar in the world to know the exact tempos that Bach planned for his music. Bach planned his tempos (in beats per minute) based on special numerical proportions. There have been scholars in the past who have theorized about this using broad tempo ranges; however, I am the first and only scholar to have put an end to all theorizing and doubt by claiming to have found the precise speed at which Bach conceived his music. Thus, I am the premier "Bach tempo scholar" in the world today. It is unfortunate, however, that due to professional jealousy and stuffy academic politics I was cut-off from ever having my groundbreaking Bach tempo theory published in academic journals or accepted as papers to be read in conferences. I plan on elaborating upon my Bach tempo theory on this website in the near future, but for now it remains on the "back burner."
- Discovering Bach's "secret tempo code" was not the only area of Bach research that occupied me during my graduate school years in the early 1990s. I am also the first and only scholar in history to have discovered Bach's use of the "S-D-G" musical motive, which I discovered around the same time as Bach's tempos, circa 1992-93. It is common knowledge among scholars that Bach spelled out his name with musical pitches in his music, the most famous example being the final subject in Contrapunctus 14 from The Art of Fugue. More specifically, the pitches B-A-C-H in German nomenclature spell out the pitches B-flat-A-C-B in English nomenclature. Most references to the "BACH motive" cite The Art of Fugue, namely, Contrapuncti 8 and 11 as well as 14. What strikes me as extraordinarily unscholarly and irresponsible is the fact that entire books and articles have been written on The Art of Fugue as well as definitive biographies about Bach and his compositional process with absolutely no mention of his use of the very important "SDG motive" (E-flat-D-G in German nomenclature). One need only look at Contrapunctus 10 to discover that Bach embedded the initials to his favorite theological axiom (Soli Deo Gloria = Glory to God Alone) into the first subject as well as into the first subjects of Contrapuncti 8 and 11 so that they appear simultaneously with the BACH motive later on. More specifically, if you play E-flat, D, G on the piano and then play its "mirror" or "inversion" around the axis of "D" you get C-sharp, D, A. These are the first three notes of Contrapunctus 10 which are then followed by F-E-A which is a transposition of SDG. What is more, the first time SDG and BACH appear simultaneously untransposed is in measure 44 of Contrapunctus 8 and when you add up the numerical equivalent to the letters (B = 2, A = 1, etc.), BACH and SDG just so happen to add to 44! I am the first and only scholar in the history of music to discover that Bach used the SDG motive in his music and combined this with the already-known-about BACH motive. I remember in the mid-1990s sending in a very important and groundbreaking article pointing all these things out to a prominent scholarly journal that specializes in Bach's music only to receive a trite and rude rejection from an "expert" on the peer-review panel who said everything in my article had been done by scholars already (which was of course a flat-out lie). This was professional jealousy at its worst. Nevertheless, I am the first and only scholar in history to have discovered Bach's use of the SDG motive, which is yet one more reason why I call myself "BachScholar." I haven't checked recently to see if any scholarly books or articles have published anything about Bach's use of the SDG motive since I have been out of the academic world now for nearly 15 years; however, if such a book or article has been published in the last 20 years, remember that it is I and not anyone else who in fact discovered Bach's use of the SDG motive way back in 1992-93. I plan on soon publishing musical examples of the SDG motive on this website in the near future.
- In 2008 I began making YouTube videos. My original intent was to play a lot of Bach in order to demonstrate my Bach tempo theory I developed 16 years previously. My Bach recordings at this time all have an introductory "disclaimer" about Bach's tempo practices. Considering this as well as my life up to this time, there is hardly any wonder why I would have named my YouTube channel anything other than BachScholar!
- At this writing in 2015, BachScholar is awaiting final approval for a registered trademark. Very soon, BachScholar will be followed with an "R" encompassed by a circle which will replace the "TM" in use since 2012. The BachScholar name represents the highest standards in teaching and the highest quality in piano sheet music. In short, BachScholar is synonymous with quality!