Details Regarding Joe Roessler’s Solo Piano Recital

Date: August 19th, 2018

Time: 7:00 PM

Location: 9167 Davidson Way Lafayette, Colorado

Duration: 1 hour ten minutes of music with a half hour reception following the program

Admission: Free; seating is first come first serve—no guarantees!


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Partita 5 in G major BWV 829 (c. 1730) 30 Minutes

I. Praembulum

II. Allemande

III. Corrente

IV. Sarabande

V. Tempo di Minuetta

VI. Gigue

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

3 Klavierstücke D 946 Op. Post (May 1828) 40 Minutes

No 1 es-Moll Allegro assai

No 2 Es-Dur Allegretto

3 C-Dur Allegro

Paper programs are provided

Conversation with the Performer by his dear friend, Thierry Marceaux

Hello, Joe. It is nice to see you again. First off, why this music in particular? Why even play classical music?

Hi, Thierry, I assure you that the pleasure of seeing you here in the beautiful city of Aspen where I had the joy of practicing this summer. With the thousands of pieces available for piano, and to a lesser extent the trillions of bits of music in general, one must only devote himself to the best. The pieces I play in this program represent the highest artistic achievements possible within music. Within the music itself, Schubert and Bach explore twelve-tone harmonies. There are multiple instances in both scores of syncopations, polyrhythms, “jazz” harmonies, odd modulations, and passages that demand precise technique nested in these beautiful melodies that cast spells upon the audience. When we listen to Schubert we are not tantalized by frivolous experiments and tricks. Schubert transports us to a realm beyond what is visible in front of us and our souls grow wings together and fly with the gods. What is most impressive to me about this music is that, as a listener, you don’t notice the polyrhythms. You don’t notice how in the second movement of the Klavierstücke, Schubert modulates between E-flat major, C minor, D minor, A-flat minor, B minor, A-flat minor again, and then back to E-flat major. This analysis holds no weight for those who are not trained in music. But I assure you, Thierry, that these are artistic triumphs to those who have musical training. It is the equivalent of one of the Dutch masterworks, where the light plays off the water in a way that masks the incredible intricate brushstrokes, so that light is only visible to the painting’s viewer and not the painting itself. When we listen to Schubert, we do not hear these key changes or the advanced compositional techniques he employs. We listen to the music itself. The struggle of life, love, and death in a piece that successfully suspends time. This is not mere music written in ice, rather it is music written in stone.

Very fine words, Joe. But I’m a bit confused. What do you mean by “suspending time”? And, what of music written in ice? I’m not sure what you mean, because it seems to me composers write music on paper, after all. Did you miss such an obvious detail?

Oh, Thierry, why must you be so contentious. I can assure you that after careful preparation for this program, I missed no detail within the scores! Here I am trying to dazzle you with images and symbols and you just won’t have any part of it. I guess I’ll do my best to explain what I mean. You just won’t let me have any fun, will you!

Anyways…the music [of this program] is capable of suspending time. Now what does that mean? Time moves constantly, right? Even as we read this, time still flows by. But the document itself remains static. After I talk to you, Thierry, and you write this down and email it to me later, my words remain static and outside of time. I don’t think they’re capable of suspending time, but they aren’t going anywhere. This document will look the same even after I die and my body withers into dust. So, in that since, this text and all texts are outside of time. But that reminds me of something else, about how text can’t come to its own defense and how it’s a pretty crappy way to learn things about the world. But that’s a topic for another discussion, and much smarter people devoted themselves to it than me. So I won’t talk about that. But the important thing to get for this recital is that the scores, as forms of text, exist outside of time.

Very dazzling. I still don’t quite get what you mean.

Well, if you let me talk, maybe you would get what I mean! When we hear the music, the music suspends time. We are not concerned with earthly matters. Everything loses meaning while we hear it. So, we are transported somewhere else. The ultimate effect is timelessness. The music is timeless, it stops time since it is outside of time itself, so it lasts long.

Ok. I see what you mean. Why does it last a long time? Why is it timeless? 

Well, now I can discuss what I mean by how some music is written in ice, and other music is written in stone.

Oh yes, that whole image. Are you sure you’re not trying to distract me?

Not at all! It is a symbol that shows how some art is temporary, and other art lasts forever.

There are two types of music: music written in ice, and music written in stone. It’s no secret that the music industry operates on a five-year cycle. People don’t like seeing it, though. Have you ever looked at a Coachella flyer from ten years ago? How many names do you recognize? What about a big rave from, say, five years ago. Do you know any of their names? I bet you can’t recognize more than two names. So their music, and almost all music, is written in ice. It doesn’t last. It rapidly melts away.

Now, this music represents the finest artistic achievements; more specifically this music represents music written in stone. After hundreds of years, world wars, the invention of electricity, the modern personal computer, we still listen to Bach and Schubert. How crazy is that? I mean, think about how much music was released this year. What portion of that even sells after six weeks? Very little. Bach and Schubert sell scores year after year hundreds of years after they died. It’s amazing. So what they did in these scores is some of the most powerful music in the world!

Ok, ok, ok. I’m convinced. But why do you get to play it? What qualifications do you have?

Well I studied classical piano for fifteen years. When I was 13 I learned counterpoint from a sadistic teacher, who later told me I’d never make it. I then took a few music theory courses and kept myself fresh by teaching myself the higher levels out of books I got out of the CU Boulder music library, and of course obsessively working on these pieces.

But you didn’t go to music school!

No, I didn’t. I studied literature instead!

What use is that?

Um…I learned techniques for dissecting narratives. I could apply these techniques to music very easily and now I see both music and literature in new ways. The use is that now I’m a multi-disciplinary scholar and proficient in more than one field. That’s valuable because I can see parallels between music and literature other people can’t, because most people don’t have enough training in both subjects to see them.

Fancy stuff. What parallels?

Man, Thierry, you’re really not as nice as usual! The most interesting parallel is the way themes are reworked. All good pieces of literature are essentially works that alter a theme over and over again, producing all kinds of variation. In a good book the theme is in the first chapter. In a good piece of music the theme is in the first few measures. So that is one parallel I saw.

What about others?

You’ll have to hear me play to know that!

Why play piano?

I love it, and it’s a need for me.

How is it a need?

I don’t know how to answer that. It’s a need in the same way that speaking is. I have to do it. There’s not a very good reason for me to do it considering how many other people play piano. But I have to do it for my own health. I also feel this way about climbing and yoga, although those are primarily for enjoyment. When I play piano it goes beyond enjoyment into something deeper, but there aren’t very good words to describe it.

Don’t you have a life? Or do you spend all day shut in your room?

I have a life, as a matter of fact. I spend a good deal of time rock climbing and doing yoga. I also go to parties and shows in the Boulder-Denver area fairly often. By no means am I a shut in! I actually only practice a few hours a day, so I have a lot of time for other projects.

What other styles did you do?

Over the course of my career I was able to become proficient in a variety of styles, including general pop, jamstronica, musical theater, jazz, house, trance, and drum and bass.

What was the point?

I was just trying stuff out. I didn’t want to be too limited to one style, and I was also afraid that I’d only have one way of doing music. I didn’t want to be the type of musician that played something because it was the only thing they knew how to do. I wanted agency in the types of things I do artistically and perform out of purpose rather than habit.

What did the other styles teach?

Well, the way I see music, is that at its most essential level it is a collection of instruments at a certain tempo. So, the other styles made me very sensitive to orchestral colors.

When I was in a jamtronica band we played all sorts of crazy underground weird after parties when I was 18 or so. At these parties I had to perform in front of a bunch of party kids who were on everything they could get their hands on. When I performed badly, people left the room, and I could bring them back by performing well. It was a very good experience for developing my stage presence. Most students only perform in academic spaces or spaces where the audience is confined to seats. They don’t know when they’re doing poorly and often play badly and in an indulgent manner that bores the audience. I learned very quickly that I wasn’t very effective on stage, and then I learned how to be effective in these environments, which translates to the classical stage.

What’s the hardest style?

I think they’re all equally difficult and present different challenges. It’s hard to write in a variety of styles and still deliver quality. I am also tempted to say that classical music is the hardest, but pop and electronic music is very difficult to achieve well.

Bad musicians often make fun of pop and electronic music because they think it’s easy. They’re not sensitive to the challenges those styles present. And, if it is easy, I invite every single one of them to produce a house track with the same audio quality found on a professional label and learn all the things about mixing and sound design that go in to one of these tracks. I invite everyone who thinks writing pop is easy to have their song go to the top of the charts and enter mainstream American cultural consciousness. They won’t be able to do it because they’re not good musicians.

What’s the hardest thing about music?

The most difficult concept in music to master is understanding the level of music that is beyond the notes and technical execution.

All music is made of three components: the score, the performer, and the beyond. [Editor’s note that I clarified with Joe later, but inserted here: Here when I discuss scores, I also want to include things like project files computers use, since these are scores the computer reads to produce recordings] The performer [which can be the computer] renders the score to produce the beyond. But most people fail because the beyond is invisible and goes beyond the notes themselves. So when you hear music executed poorly, it has no additional characteristics. It has no images in it, nor mood or color. Sometimes the execution can even include technical flaws. A recording that immediately comes to mind is John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things. Coltrane plays out of tune, the bass player is out of tune, there are some squeaks here and there, and Alice’s [the pianist on the recording] doesn’t play intellectually challenging lines. But I love this recording because it contains so much of the beyond. When you hear them play you are transported. This is the layer I call the beyond, but other people have called magic. What is so hard is that it goes beyond the notes themselves and even the technical ability of the performer. So that’s what I mean.

How do you deal with the nerves?

It’s sort of like death lurking in the future. You just get used to it and it stops bothering you.

Anything to add?

No. I don’t have anything else to say.

I don’t either.