Let’s give a warm welcome to international guitarist Steven Hancoff.
Hancoff began playing guitar when he was 13 years old. Within a year he was performing in coffeehouses around Baltimore and Washington, D.C. For the next 15 years, he toured the world—about 50 countries—as an official Artistic Ambassador representing the United States.
His recordings include Steel String Guitar, New Orleans Guitar Solos, Duke Ellington for Solo Guitar, andThe Single Petal of A Rose. He is also the author of Acoustic Masters: Duke Ellington for Fingerstyle Guitarand New Orleans Jazz for Fingerstyle Guitar. Hancoff also has a Master’s in clinical social work, and is a psychotherapist, a Rolfer, and a practitioner of Tai Chi.
He’s here today to talk about his latest work, Bach, Casals and the Six Suites for Cello Solo, an ambitious multimedia biography of Bach consisting of an ebook in four volumes with an accompanying 3-CD set.
Connect with Hancoff via Facebook or Twitter @StevenHancoff.
Readers will find my review of this wonderful work here.
Congratulations on the release of your multimedia biography about Johann Sebastian Bach: Bach, Casals and the Six Suites for Cello Solo. Can you describe this project and tell us what compelled you to put it together?
Here’s a Synopsis:
From Tragedy to Transcendence:
The Six Suites for ‘Cello Solo
by J. Sebastian Bach
I have transcribed and recorded the thirty-six masterpieces that comprise J. S. Bach’s Cello Suites on acoustic guitar—almost three hours of music.
I have also written a four-volume, highly interactive e-book: Bach, Casals and The Six Suites for ‘Cello Solo — biographies of Bach and of Pablo Casals, the man who rescued the Suites from oblivion. This work is anecdotal rather than technical, describing the lives of these great men in the context of their times as I have come to fathom them—as fascinating, illuminating, and inspiring artists, and as human beings challenged, like all of us, by the demands life.
In addition to the storytelling, the book is highly illustrated, with about 1,000 period pictures – portraits, oils, watercolors, stained glass, photographs, etchings and engravings, documents, sculptures, statues and monuments. These pictures illustrate the text, and make the e-book very colorful and accessible.
In addition, more than 300 contemporary artists have contributed hundreds of works of contemporary art, all of which is inspired by J. S. Bach and Pablo Casals. This is the most comprehensive art book devoted to Bach and Casals that has ever been compiled.
To tell the story of the Cello Suites, I have also created and embedded 25 beautiful and compelling videos.
Not only that but the written transcriptions — the scores – will be made available for free so that guitarists who wish to learn these pieces can try their hands at them.
Here we have a set of music by Bach never before performed on acoustic guitar, accompanied by entertaining, easy-to-read, stunning and informative biographies in the form of a visually bountiful, highly interactive e-book.
No, I cannot tell you what compelled me to do this. It more or less feels like it is my destiny to have done this. I know that cello is a one-note-at-a time instrument, while guitar is idiomatically suited to play harmonies, bass lines and chords. So, the creative juice is in harmonizing the Cello Suites while still playing all of Bach’s notes, and staying true to the profundity of his musical and emotional intent.
In order to fulfill this intention, I started to read about the man, then think about it, how did he come to compose this music at this time in his life. I kept on reading, and thinking about it, and writing, and talking to people… and eventually this i-Book project got born.
What did Pablo Casals mean when he spoke of “the miracle of Bach”?
“The miracle of Bach has not appeared in any other art. To strip human nature until its Divine attributes are made clear, to inform ordinary activities with spiritual fervor, to give wings of eternity to that which is most ephemeral; to make Divine things human and human things Divine; such is Bach, the greatest and purest music of all time.”
– Pablo Casals, 1950
How does Bach’s music have meaning for those who have to deal with adversity?
The story of your life is self-created. It does not have to be about your tragedies and adversities. It will serve you better to sanctify life by giving back the best you can to whatever force it was that created your life, and therefore, life itself. Your mission is to enhance, or repair, the world for the benefit of all humanity. And doing that enriches you.
What type of challenges did you face during the creation of this project?
I was at the desk before 7:00 every day. Worked until 10:00 or 11:00. Rested. Then worked again in the afternoon. And again in the evening, often very late into the night. I feel I thrived on that kind of schedule. But maybe the biggest challenge was watching years go by, and not being able to travel to the rivers and mountains and trails and wonders around the world.
What has been the audiences’ response so far?
So far, so good. There’s no question that most people prefer Beyonce to Bach. But everybody who hears the music or sees the book so far is expressing an immense “Wow!!”
Still, maybe the biggest challenge is to find a way to avoid the sinking feeling that many people get when they hear the name “Bach.” As Mark Twain said, they might feel they are about to have to “endure culture.” This is not your grandfather’s Bach… I promise!
What has been most rewarding about putting this biography together?
The most rewarding element of all is the feeling that I have done what I set out to do. That is, I am 67 years old. I do not know how many more years I will have to be able to wander this Earth. I get to know that, when I die, I will have left behind something of value, something that will have made the world at least a slightly better place to be by virtue of adding something of intrinsic value and beauty.
Where is Bach, Casals and the Six Suites for Cello Solo available?
At the i-Tunes store:
Where can readers and listeners find more about your work?