The Star Spangled Banner
Rachel Barton Pine, violin ("ex-Lobkowicz" A&H Amati,
Recorded live: May 29-30, June 25, and July 13, 1997 at WFMT Chicago
Stringendo would like to thank the following people for their help and support and general cool-ness: Bill Kronenberg and the Third Coast String Quartet; Nort Johnson and Showcase Music Magazine, Lou Brutus, Freak, Scott Loftus, Chris Payne, Dave Richards, Joe Robinson, and everyone else at Rock 103.5; Scott Davidson and Rebel Radio; Wendy Snyder & Bill Leff and Q101; Jonathon Brandmeier and The Loop; Karl Kochmann and everyone at Star Security; Jerry Mickelson and JAM Productions; Ross Beacraft; and Ron Rolland.
Crossover is hot. Yo-Yo Ma is collaborating with Bobby McFerrin and Mark O'Connor, Perlman is playing klezmer, and everyone is doing the tango. As our tastes become increasingly multi-cultural and eclectic, the lines between high art and pop art are becoming increasingly blurred. But isn't playing heavy metal on an acoustic violin going a bit too far?
From a historical perspective, I would have to say no. Classical music through the centuries has always drawn heavily upon the rhythmic and harmonic elements of the folk and popular music of its day, raising up wonderful but simpler styles and transforming them to a higher level. Almost every composer, from baroque to Beethoven to Bartok, has provided examples of this. In turn, the great violin soloists have been known to arrange some of their favorite non-classical tunes. Paganini wrote variations on every aria and song that existed, including "God Save the Queen." Vieuxtemps arranged Yankee Doodle and other American folk songs. Maud Powell played Negro spirituals, while many artists dressed up Hebrew and gypsy melodies. More recently, Heifetz transcribed works by his friend George Gershwin and even collaborated with Bing Crosby. Menuhin often has played with such greats as Ravi Shankar and the late Stefan Grapelli. This project continues in that tradition.
The rock world is not as far removed from the classical world as many people assume. Bands have always used strings as backup on certain tracks, but now the trend is to have a string player as part of the band. Many rock artists were trained classically, and classical heavily influences their compositional style. Marty Friedman, Kirk Hammett, and Slash, among others, listen often to classical music. (Marty told me that his favorite instrument is the violin!)
Many metal musicians (Van Halen, Man O'War, King Diamond, Rainbow, Judas Priest, Accept, etc.) include actual classical quotes in their compositions. I find it interesting that when you eliminate the distortion and can actually hear all the notes of the song, it has much more great music than I ever would have suspected. The harmonic influences come from sources including blues and classical, and the structures of tunes like "The Spirit of the Radio" and "One" are quite sophisticated, much more so than in a typical pop tune.
My favorite rock bands always fully express the emotions they are portraying with their music and try to share those feelings with the audience. These musicians inspire me to reach for that level of communication in my performances of classical music, with its more varied emotional palette.
I selected many of my favorite songs for this album, but also tried to showcase a variety of styles--from classic rock to grunge to classic metal to speed metal--in order to show the capabilities of the violin. Approaching the thrash tunes was especially challenging. Various string players have covered tunes in some of the other styles on this album, but doing riffs by Dimebag Darrell or Dave Mustaine took a lot of experimenting. The result on the acoustic instruments is much more edgy than it would be on electric violins. In order to generate the volume, we had to dig in and compensate physically for the lack of amplification. That kind of intensity has always attracted me to heavy metal music.
I chose the Paganini Caprice #24 and the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia as the two classical pieces to mix in because they seemed to fit really well with the other pieces. It is fascinating how certain variations of each of these works sound so similar to parts of some of the rock songs.
As humor columnist Dave Barry says, "There are really only two kinds of music- good music and bad music. This means music I like and music I don't." I hope that the wonderful pieces we play on this album open your ears to some of the music that I especially like, and that you will like it too.
"ABOUT THE ALBUM"
Rachel has an amazing ability to make the impossible a reality. The idea of making a CD of covers of some of her favorite rock songs had been discussed several times since she performed her own arrangements for two violins and a cello of One and Fade to Black live on Chicago's Rock 103.5. After subsequent appearances on other rock stations, an amazing number of people approached her after her classical performances and explained that they had decided to attend their first classical concert after hearing her rock renditions on the radio. Because their experience was very positive, the idea of an outreach album crystallized.
The original plan was to release the performances of these two arrangements. Rachel brought with her two exceptional musicians, Edgar and Brandon, to make the recording. However, with incredible faith in the group's ability, she ambitiously decided to arrange and record eight additional covers. In view of a commitment to record her fourth classical CD in two weeks and the full schedules of everyone involved, we reserved two nights of studio time ten days later. The group was able to meet only twice, so several of the songs had not been rehearsed. However, everyone agreed that the music is so full of energy and the raw intensity so important to the sound that editing would detract from the credibility of the music. So on May 29 and 30, everyone gathered at the studio (there is no multitracking for acoustical instruments) to attempt the impossible: to record Rachel's arrangements of nine rock songs, her transcription of the national anthem, and two classical pieces--all in complete live takes in two evenings. To my astonishment, in less than eight hours, all nine arrangements, the national anthem, and one of the classical pieces (with two edited notes) had been completed to everyone's satisfaction.
Edgar's incredible improvisational ability and terrific sense of humor kept the group focused but relaxed. Brandon's exceptional ability to adapt to a totally new genre of music and his experience as a chamber musician provided a powerful driving bass that, like drums, kept the group synchronized. Rachel's endless energy and mastery of her instrument carried everyone to levels none had thought possible. The final piece that remained unrecorded was Paganini's Caprice 24, one of the most exciting and difficult pieces for solo violin. Determined to complete the piece in a live take, Rachel returned to the studio on June 25. Since everyone was in town that evening, the group decided to add Blow up the Outside World. Rachel passed out her arrangement at the studio, and within fifty minutes, the song had been recorded. Rachel finished off the Paganini on July 13 for a miraculous total recording time of nine hours and forty-seven minutes.
It was an incredible honor to work with these musicians; the exceptional quality of this CD is a tribute to their talent. I hope that you enjoy this disc as much as we have enjoyed its creation.
Total Time: 58:48