Archive for Humor

Ten Things that J. S. Bach and I Have in Common

It can be very encouraging to discover that you and someone you greatly admire have something in common. For example, let’s say you really like Zachary Quinto’s depiction of Mr. Spock in the new Star Trek movies. But then you learn that, like you, Zachary was born in Pittsburgh, PA. Now you feel a closeness to him that transcends his acting roles. If you’re ever having lunch with Zachary, you can talk about the Three Rivers Arts Festival, Primanti Brothers, and the Steelers, in addition to Spock’s relationship with Uhura.

I was doing some research on J. S. Bach, and I found out that he and I have not just one, but ten things in common. So if heaven has cafes, Johann and I should have enough to talk about over lunch.

1. To start with the most obvious: We are both composers. Of course, this is like saying that Kobe Bryant and I can both dribble a basketball. If Johann asked what I’ve written, I would point him to, which has almost 10,000 views. He in turn would tell me that I might have heard of a few of his compositions—like Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, The Well Tempered Clavier, The Brandenburg Concertos, and Mass in B Minor. He would also point me to a few of his pieces on YouTube, including, which has over 8 million views. From then on I’d be more careful when answering questions like “what have you written?”

2. Our last names both start with “ba.” In fact, the third letters in our names also aren’t too far apart alphabetically, so if you file your CDs by composers’ last names, my 20 CDs ( might end up next to Bach’s 7382 CDs (

3. Our music isn’t/wasn’t famous during our lifetimes. Bach’s music, like mine,  was often considered old-fashioned and irrelevant. About 80 years after Bach’s death, Mendelssohn rediscovered and popularized Bach’s music. Maybe there is some kid reading this who, years from now, will promote my portfolio to the rest of the world.

4. Neither of us has any known living descendants. In Bach’s case it wasn’t for lack of trying. He had 20 children. I was never into the whole procreation thing. I guess I’m just too busy writing music. Although 1128 of Bach’s compositions have survived, it is estimated that he wrote over 11,000 pieces, so apparently he didn’t have any trouble finding time for writing music in addition to having children.

5. Neither of us ever met Handel. For me that’s probably excusable, since Handel died 201 years before I was born. But for Bach it’s more surprising, since he was born in the same year as Handel. In fact, on a number of occasions Bach tried to arrange for a meeting, but it never worked out. Ironically, the same eye surgeon, John Taylor (not Duran Duran’s bass player), operated unsuccessfully on both Handel and Bach and was most likely responsible for both their deaths.

6. We both worked as church organists and sometimes got into trouble for our musical choices. In 1705 Bach returned to work as an organist in Arnstadt after traveling a bit and soaking up some cool new musical ideas that he was looking forward to putting into practice. But his congregation found Bach’s new ideas confusing, which caused the church council to reprimand him. Similarly, when I was in high school—although I still can’t grasp why this was objectionable—my supervisor disagreed on whether a Pink Floyd song was a suitable prelude to the Catholic mass.

7. We both were avid coffee drinkers. Bach even wrote an opera, “Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht” (“Be still, stop chattering”), about coffee. It was first performed in a coffeehouse. I’ve had a number of pieces premiered in coffeehouses too, although I haven’t yet written specifically on the subject of coffee.

8. We both enjoyed taking long walks. Bach walked 29 miles to go hear organist Dietrich Buxtehude play. I’ve hiked an 8-hour stretch of the Na Pali coast in Kauai, and I’ve driven 29 miles in LA traffic, which Bach never had to contend with, to go hear prog rock bands with names similar to “Buxtehude.”

9. Neither of us had a degree in music. Bach didn’t have a college degree, but he received private music instruction from his parents (who both died when Bach was only 10) and from his older brother. He was trained in organ, singing, violin, and composition. Likewise, I do not have a degree in music, and all my training has been through private lessons. I wish I could say that I studied as much as Bach did when I was a kid, but I was too busy watching Star Trek reruns. By the way, I think Leonard Nimoy’s version of Mr. Spock is better than Zachary Quinto’s.

10. Neither of us have ever had a Snapchat account. I don’t even know what Snapchat is. Neither did Bach. Surely this is not a coincidence!




Prog Rock Bingo

Progressive rock (aka “prog rock” or “art rock”) lyrics have a somewhat different distribution of vocabulary than typical pop songs. Instead of words like “baby, “girl,” and “love,” prog rock lyrics have “epitaph” (“confusion will be my epitaph”), “undinal” (“undinal songs urge the sailors on”), and “love” (“dawn of love sent within us colours of awakening among the many”, not “Yeah, I will love you baby, always”).

So I invented a little game based on this: Prog Rock Bingo.


prog rock bingo


You probably know how to play traditional Bingo, but it’s pretty simple, so I’ll review the rules. Each player has a card with numbers randomly distributed in a 5×5 grid. The “caller” draws numbers randomly and calls them out. If your card has the number that has just been called, you mark that number. The central number is a freebie; everyone gets to mark that one. As soon as you have five in a row (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally), you call out “bingo.” The first person to do so wins.

Prog Rock Bingo puts a little twist on the game. First of all, every player has the same card. Each space on the card contains a word that you might hear in a prog rock song. Each player constructs a playlist ahead of time. The players don’t need to be in the same physical location; they just need to agree on the length of the playlist and to start at the same time. I find that 30-40 minutes is a good length, i.e. 3 or 4 songs. As you listen to your playlist, you mark the words that you hear in the lyrics. The first person to mark five in a row, just like in traditional Bingo, wins. If you’re not all playing in the same location, you may have to agree to notify the other players via email.

The point of the game then becomes to construct the right playlist. Whereas in traditional Bingo all players listen to the same numbers being called out but have different cards, in this version of the game all have the same card but listen to different words being called out. The strategy of the game is to choose the best playlist based on the words on the card.

I’ve chosen words that are fairly generic; it would be too easy to design a winning playlist if the words were too specific like “epitaph” or “undinal.” By tweaking the words on the card, we could create versions of this game for other musical genres; e.g. I can easily imagine a hip hop or country version.

Challenge your prog rock friends across the miles. Have fun!

Project Stages

The stages that every project goes through…

  • “I’m a creative genius. This new thing I’m working on is going to take over the world.”
  • “This is crap. No one is going to like this. I’m an idiot.”
  • Persevere anyway. There’s some value in finishing it, even if it’s not very good.
  • A friends tells you that they like it. Attend a three-hour congratulation party; guest list: yourself.
  • Another friend tells you that they don’t like it. Three nights of insomnia and self-loathing.
  • Procrastinate for one week. Watch YouTube videos about cats. Listen to music. Read poetry. Eat ice cream.
  • Complete rewrite.  Previous friend says that they still don’t like it.  Achieve peace and self-confidence independent of all other people’s opinions.
  • “I LOVE THIS! I could work on this 24/7 and never be tired of it. This is what heaven must be like.”
  • “I HATE THIS! This is hell. Why didn’t I pursue that career in tax accounting?”
  • There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there. One more edit. No, just one more.
  • “Get this thing away from me. Push it out the door; I don’t care if it’s finished. I never want to do another project like this as long as I live.”
  • “Hey, I have an idea for another project…”

Start over from the beginning.

How You Know You’re an OCD Music Producer

Come on, admit it, we’ve all done some of these.

  • The track sounds good at -5.9 dB, so you nudge it to -6.0.
  • The edit sounds fine without a crossfade, but you add one anyway.
  • There’s no way in the world anyone is going to hear that extraneous string sound on the acoustic guitar in the mix with 15 other instruments, but you go ahead and fade around it anyway.
  • The last lead vocal take was perfect, but you ask the singer to do another one “just to be safe.”
  • Gotta remove that noise that’s down at -60 dB.
  • You roll off everything below 20 Hz and above 20 KHz on the master fader.
  • They had to take away your autotune.
  • Your current project has folders with names like “My project at 11pm,” “my project at 11:10pm,” “My project backup #32,” and “My project version 41.13b.2f.”