Bach to the Future

with Flute Alone's Rebecca Cochran

“Rock Out With Your Bach Out”? No, that’s terrible. I’m bad with slogans. Fortunately there are perfectly good existing hashtags.

#bachtothepeople  #bachinthesubways2021

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One of the things I want to do with this newsletter is to rebuild some of the personal connective tissue that I’ve sadly allowed to atrophy in this era of so-called social media. I’ve met multiple hundreds of people over the past fifty years, in different corners of the world, many of whom don’t know one another, and all of whom are doing interesting things.

Some of these occasional interviews will be with Triad locals, some with list members old and new, and some with people whose work I admire, who I e-mail out of the blue.

If you are one of those people, and you’ve got something cool you want to talk about, don’t wait for me to roll the dice and get around to you. Drop me a line at this address.

Back when I was still professing full-time, I used to stop at this tiny little Starbuck’s on Battleground in the mornings to get some writing done before having to open my office up to students and their problems (very few people come to see you when things are going well).

That’s where I met Rebecca Cochran, someone whose range of interests is easily as broad as mine. And her social network is bigger. Dunbar’s number of 150 is an average. She’s one of the outliers dragging that average up. The multiple hundreds I mentioned above are a grand total. At any one time my actual network is much smaller. Right now there are about five people I see and talk to on an almost-daily basis.

For almost ten years, Rebecca organized a bi-monthly discussion group called IdeaNetwork (in fact, the COVID lockdown last March canceled their 10th anniversary meeting). It was nominally about design thinking, but the speakers ranged broadly. I spoke there at least twice, about biomimicry and permaculture. IdeaNetwork was one of the inspirations for the five-year mission that was the Greensboro Science Cafe. Neither group went virtual during the COVID pandemic. “I just had no interest in doing that,” she told me recently, in person, after having appeared in a dream to remind me that it’s almost Bach’s birthday.

I think it’s fair to say that Rebecca is a Bach fanatic. She spent a full year blogging about him every day — his life, his music, his effects on her life — during 2016.

“366 days, actually, because it was a leap year!”

She was even interviewed on NPR about Bach. I am not particularly sophisticated, musically, and I’m happy to admit that much of the classical stuff is over my head. But I like enthusiasm, and I like grassroots participatory expressions of culture.

Bach in the Subways is a five day decentralized music festival, where thousands of people gather separately to pay homage to their idol — or play homage, I guess — with free concerts in public spaces. It started in New York City, which has actual subways, but now has outposts around the world, including here in Greensboro. Rebecca has played Bach by herself under the rotunda at the bus station on a couple of occasions (that being the closest thing we have), and to smaller audiences at galleries downtown. She is a flutist. Here are some short samples of her playing:

The third one down is a Bach piece, about which she said this:

The “Sarabande” is one of four movements from Bach’s Suite in A minor for flute alone. Probably composed in 1717, it is Bach’s only known work for flute solo and one of the first works Bach composed for the newly-invented transverse (or side-blown) flute.

In 2021, with COVID still being a limiting factor, she and her flute will occupy Ambleside Gallery on Saturday the 20th,

accompanied by Jefferson Dalby of the UNCSA School of Dance, on the gallery’s Steinway grand piano. It’s a relatively large space, and it will not be difficult to socially distance. While closely spaced church choirs have been found to be “hotbeds of virus transmission,” most instruments don’t spread aerosol droplets more than a foot, partly because the player’s body heat creates enough of an updraft (or, fancier, a thermal plume) to pull them towards the ceiling.

This makes sense to me as a former 6th grade trombone player. There’s a little bit of spray around the player’s mouth, where the lips are vibrating against the cup, but all those brass instruments have spit valves (or, fancier, water keys) precisely because the spit (or condensation) stays inside the instrument. It doesn’t go spraying out the other end, as confirmed in at least one study using high-speed cameras (as on the classic show, Mythbusters!).

So wear a mask, obviously, and stay off the ceiling, but otherwise feel free to get your Bach on this week. In this particular case, the music should be more contagious than the virus will be.

Rebecca’s show is not a busking situation, but if you do feel generous, there is a nonprofit playing classical music for prisoners, which I coincidentally learned about in my March Rotary magazine.


I can’t share the link for the article, because their practice is to put only some of their articles online for non-subscribers. This is a pretty common model here on Substack. I haven’t seen anyone delaying access, though I haven’t done a thorough survey, and I’m not sure it’s a tool that even exists on this platform. Journalists in general are afraid of getting scooped into irrelevance (something that academic scientists also worry about), and I wonder if that has left them a blind spot about timeliness.

What do you all think? Have you seen a delayed-access model work in other places?

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One last thing: a study out of Hong Kong suggests that the measures that have been effective at slowing the spread of COVID between kids in schools may not be as effective with the rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, especially since kids had been out long enough to reduce rhinovirus exposure levels. Hong Kong shut its schools down again to preserve their COVID testing capacity.