Written by Anne Ierardi
“I have a long history of fooling around with other people’s music.”
– Peter Schickele
Jung-Ho Pak is celebrating New Year’s Day with a program that promises to be attractive, elegant and great fun. His guest star is none other than P.D.Q. Bach, aka Peter Schickele. Schickele graciously spoke with me by phone this week about his trip to Cape Cod, in the midst of a busy season of engagements. “I will be in two of my personas: Professor Schickele (P.D.Q. Bach) and Peter Schickele.” P.D.Q. Bach was born in the fruitful imagination of Peter Schickele during some musical research, and in 1965 he and his friends brought P.D.Q. Bach to the public at Town Hall in New York City. Eventually his popularity brought him to the Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. The “infamous” comedian of classical music was born.
His love of music and training in composition at Juilliard School of Music forged a partnership with his playful comic nature that has reached out to a wide variety of audiences for the past 50 years. He has written well over 100 compositions for symphony orchestras, choral groups, chamber ensembles, voice, movies, television and even Joan Baez.
While Schickele’s main goal is to “make people laugh,” he also is happy to find that he has helped young people appreciate classical music, often in classroom settings like his “New Horizons in Music Appreciation,” where a humorous take on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, in the form of a play-by-play Sportscast, is nevertheless “historically true.” Still, he laments the fact that our music programs have had their funding cut back so that many budding artists will not have an opportunity to learn music first-hand through a school band.
Like many comedians, Schickele is unassuming and honest: “My family said I was born entertaining at 18 months old. I don’t hold any high-blown ideas about my work. I am happy to make people laugh.
“During the sixties in my pre-teen years, I had the pleasure of hanging out with my older brothers and male cousins. We listened to the humorous music with its sound effects of Spike Jones on the phonograph and laughed watching Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. My cousin Phil took me in his Model-T Ford to parades. Phil donned a straw hat and Groucho glasses, squeezing one of those horns with the rubber ball.”
By age 10 in Washington, D.C., Schickele was a theatrical kid acting out movie serials and westerns in his basement. He still remembers every syllable of the music that he passed on to his own children.
P.D.Q. Bach will present to Cape audiences the “1712 Overture,” a giant orchestra piece “with organ and every instrument including the kitchen sink.” He also will be singing a round with the soloists on a P.D.Q. Bach poem called “The Mule.”
The Symphony will perform several Strauss pieces, including “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” led by Jae Cosmos Lee, the symphony concertmaster, and “Chacun à son goût” (Each to his own taste) from Die Fledermaus. Musical theatre pieces include “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Sound of Music.”
Guest vocalists include Kara Cornell and Margot Rood. Kara is a mezzo soprano who performs in many genres, from classical to opera to jazz and musical theatre. Soprano Margot Rood has a wide repertoire and often performs with the Handel and Haydn Society.
Jung-Ho Pak’s reflections also bring him back to his own days in the school band when they were playing a P.D.Q. Bach piece. He recalled, “it really surprised me,” as “classical music is usually so serious. It was such a relief to know someone out there made what you did cool and hip and put a smile on your face.”
Start the New Year on an upbeat with the Cape Symphony. Meet P.D.Q. Bach. Arrive early to enjoy the Vienna Café with Viennese pastries by Gourmet Caterers of Boston.
Limited seats are available: www.capesymphony.org or call 508-362-1111.