MattB Interview – Bach
Matt B: You know, my teachers say they hate when students ask to learn Bach. They think that you need to be playing classical guitar for years before you’re even ready for something as sensitive as Bach all the counterpoint and bringing voices out and the complex fingering. Traditionally, they make people play just stone slow because of all that. And people think they can handle it and end up playing a recital where they’re playing things at half tempo just to keep it clean, because they wanted to do it with good tone, and blah blah blah. But yeah. That was the only Bach piece. I feel like maybe I did one more small, small piece.
TG Matt: If you did a smaller one, you might have done the Minuet in G [sings] .
Matt B: No, I never did that in guitar, actually. I did a paper on the Goldberg Variations.
TG Matt: Oh, really?
Matt B: Yeah. I’ve always been meaning to at least do the aria, because I just fell in love with those pieces. I always thought Bach was so dry. I was into all the Romantic music and sometimes the Renaissance, but Baroque was always so dry. And then one day, I was in a guitar ensemble and we were playing an arrangement of one of the cantatas. All of a sudden, I got it. I think also there was a moment where I was doing my paper on the Goldberg Variations did it take this long? No, I think I had fallen in love with Bach before that. But we were talking about how he just dedicated everything to God or to Anna Magdalena, it was usually one or the other. Romantic music catches you right here. It’s all about being human. And then when you suddenly think about this counterpoint reaching for something beyond being human, it suddenly made sense. Counterpoint became a metaphor for how the universe works, with all these intricacies and cycles and sequences and just the beauty of mathematics and perfection and sculptedness. And all of a sudden, Bach made sense to me. I just fell in love with him, because I just felt like he was a genius. It was a beautiful metaphor.
And then I started listening to Steve Morris and listening to the way he did counterpoint. He did so many amazing things with counterpoint in rock. What he does is electric chamber music. And meeting him, too. I met him a couple of times, and he’s just the nicest, nicest guy in the whole world and so supportive. He talked to me for like 10 minutes each time. He didn’t remember me very well the second time, but still. The intention was there. And listening to counterpoint, that too became a metaphor in some ways. Even when it wasn’t necessarily that deep and it wasn’t exactly a mathematical and structured metaphor for the entire universe. It’s really difficult to explain what counterpoint became to me, but it became something so profound.
When you look at the Goldberg Variations, it’s not much of that. It’s more Bach with his playful side and just tossing off this music.
TG Matt: Right. It’s not the heavy stuff.
Matt B: Yeah. But yet, they’re phenomenal. They’re just beautiful little vignettes. My spirit soars with them. It’s just, oh. And doing a paper on it, as excruciating as it was, it was also just so gratifying to get into these things, to look at the toss offs that are so elegant and so, so perfect. And the canons and the fugues. All of them. And there’s thirty freaking two of them! You know? And all of the inner structure in just the 32 in every three, you’ve got this happening.
TG Matt: All the parameters that he put on himself, the mathematical relationships.
Matt B: Yeah! Even for the whole group of them. So you have all the math within the individual pieces and then how they relate as a group. And the beauty of the aria, starting and ending it. Oh. God.
TG Matt: It does. I remember the day Bach grabbed me. Better than many musical revelations in my life, but this was one of them. I was a freshman at West Valley College taking music theory classes. Actually, it was probably my second year. I don’t think I got into them until my second year there. Second semester is what it was. Another teacher, not the teacher that’s teaching our class, came in and talked a little bit about a class he was going to teach the next semester. He was basically coming in and giving us a commercial for his class, and he said, “I’m going to teach this class, and it’s called “Counterpoint.” And I’m thinking, “Oh, that sounds kind of cool. I wonder what it is.” He sits down at the piano and he says, “We’re going to be studying Bach, ” and he plays Invention No. 13, in A minor. [sings]
Matt B: Oh, yeah.
TG Matt: No, it wasn’t that one, it was ah, shoot! It was an A minor one.
Matt B: That’s a fugue, isn’t it?
TG Matt: That is one of the concertos for two or four harpsichords. [sings] Anyway, it was No. 13. It was this A minor one. And he came up with this really cool little melody on the right hand, and I thought, “Well, that’s neat enough by itself.” And as it continued, the same thing just happened with the left hand, and it’s like, “That’s impossible. That cannot have just happened. I could not have just heard what I heard.”
Matt B: And how does harmony just arise from that? He wasn’t even thinking chords! Just the interrelationship of voices!
TG Matt: So, I signed up for that class, and from then on, Baroque and Renaissance music was where my heart really was. I was playing the lute at the time a little bit.
Matt B: Do you still have a lute?
TG Matt: I still have a couple, yeah.
Matt B: That’s so awesome.
TG Matt: I have a Renaissance one and a Baroque one.
Matt B: Oh, wow, you suck. That’s so awesome!