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Muz columnist Garrett Wheeler discovers the link between Bach and the Beatles.


What would the world be like if the Beatles had never existed? Would the sun fail to rise? Would the birds stop their singing? Would the world be absent all things in music and pop culture we've come to know and love? Doubtful, but those four Liverpool lads sure did have an impact. They fully deserve their association with some of music's other big guns: Bob Marley. Elvis Presley. Bach. (Yeah, that Bach.)

In an effort to illustrate the largely uncharted link between Johann Sebastian and the likes of John, Paul, George and Ringo, the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival undertook an expository concert Sunday night that featured famous Beatles songs alongside a few abbreviated numbers by the German maestro. In theory, the merging of the two musical superpowers seemed plausible--the Beatles, reigning kings of modern popular music, sharing the spotlight with Bach, the undisputed champion of the Baroque period--but could the connection really be made?

The show's opener, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," quickly put to rest any doubt about whether the Beatles can be interpreted through a 17th-century lens. As the song began, a few giggles escaped the audience, likely the result of hearing the song's cheerful refrain delivered in the somber tones of the Baroque style. The contradictory nature of the show was in itself worth a chuckle. But that was the fun of it--a stretch maybe, but a pleasant one nonetheless. The good times continued with a rendition of "Hey Jude," which ended with the audience singing along to the "Na na na nas" while tenor Brian Staufenbiel handled the lead.

To be sure, there were a few hurdles the ensemble had to overcome, starting with replacing the piano part on "Let It Be" with a harpsichord. I'll admit it was a little tough to swallow at first, but once I got used to the toy-piano sound, Paul's masterpiece was as brilliant as ever. Another potentially disastrous moment came when Annette Bauer tackled three classic Beatles tunes armed with nothing more than the less-than-mighty soprano recorder. Bauer's first selection was "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," followed by "Norwegian Wood" and "Yellow Submarine." Now, let me be clear: if Bauer had simply tooted out the central melodies of the three songs, there would have been little separating her from the fifth-grade class at Santa Cruz Elementary, but this was in no way the case. Instead, the arrangements by festival director Linda Burman-Hall were amazingly intricate, with elaborately placed scales weaving around the well-known melodies. Leaving the concert, I overheard a group of high-schoolers agree that the "recorder part was bad-ass--[Bauer's] solos were insane!" I rest my case.

The real intellectual meat of the show came when the Georgiana Bruce Kirby Chamber Singers took the stage before intermission, singing three short Bach pieces, including the whimsical "Aria" from the Orchestral Suite in D Major. The song rang with a contemporary flair that sounded surprisingly--Beatlesesque. As the ensemble (Lux Musica Beatles Band) played through Paul's beloved "When I'm Sixty-four," the point was clear: maybe there are a few overlaps between the Beatles and Bach, those two musical forces as timeless as the sun, the birds and music itself.

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