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Paul Henry Smith
A grand piano alone in a room
A grand piano alone in a room
Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

During the 2020 pandemic I was one of the fortunate who had extra time when things shut down. Witnessing the world succumbing to the pandemic, I wondered if I could take all that I’ve learned, studied, and practiced over the past forty years of playing and thinking about music to create a performance that might allow listeners the possibility of a transformative musical experience. To do this, I decided to create a completely new, re-examined performance of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC) book 1.

“Shh! I’m pretty sure there’s a lion crouching in the grass!”

80,000 years ago, when that scenario played out, the people who could imagine what would come next, whose brains and bodies responded to the rustling grasses the right way did not get eaten, and survived to reproduce. In today’s world, we have learned not just to detect the lion, but to artificially recreate the experience, for fun. Whether it’s a roller-coaster, a movie, or a symphony, we are pretty good at pushing our own buttons in a safe place where the risk of getting killed is practically zero.

Our ancestors had a cognitive bias with a great evolutionary advantage. Those…

Can we directly experience a reality beyond the ordinary experience of the here and now—beyond the normal duality of I, myself, on the one hand, and you and the rest of the world on the other?

Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

Consider this: The truths science has revealed about the universe are simply astounding. We now know that there is an unimaginably gigantic and unimaginably tiny universe in which we live, and in which our experience has no relevance.

And as for time, there is only our being alive in this moment right now. The billions who have gone before us had their moment, their “right now.” And the billions to come after us will have theirs.

So what does music have to do with that? It is perhaps the most direct way to actually experience the truth that our experience…

Studying with one of the greatest musicians in the world can be intimidating—but maybe not in the way you might think.

Sergiu Celibidache generously invited anyone who wanted to learn to come to his rehearsals and attend his informal classes. Anyone. If you showed up, you were in. It was that simple. He was generous and asked for no payment. After I attended his daily classes at Curtis Institute of Music, Celibidache invited me to go to Munich to continue studying with him, which I did in 1986.

In 2013 I started a small company called Sonation to empower people to create meaningful, personal, rewarding musical experiences. They play their instruments in real-time, with “in-the-moment” musical expression, surrounded by a rich sound-world created by some of the greatest composers who have ever lived. I founded Sonation so people could experience the rewarding satisfaction of making music. True “augmented reality” in the world of sound and imagination.

Cadenza was the app we created that accompanied a musician with a real orchestra. …

Paul Henry Smith

Designer and musician. Former student of Leonard Bernstein and Sergiu Celibidache.

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