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January 24, 2013

Passion Just Can't Shut Up

Photo from Peter Schaaf off Marin Symphony site.

How do you know when you're in the presence of passion? It just won't shut up, that's how. It can't. But, in a good way. That's Rob Kapilow.

An American composer, pianist, educator, author, tennis-playing, karate-teaching, all around intellectual whirlwind, (who surely must have been a child prodigy), Kapilow showed the audience at the taping of a show for CBC Radio last night What Makes It Great with the It, in this case, being classical music.

It's also the name of his new book, an enhanced e-book, the first of its kind, that lets readers read and hear about classical music simultaneously thanks to iTunes, iPhones, iPads  and I can't believe my publisher just refused to get that they should have done an enhanced e-book years ago when he first mentioned it.  That's kind of what he said.

Seated at a piano, wearing grey flannels and a white shirt, attire which was ridiculously conservative in contrast to his gregarious, non-stop personality, this 60-year-old who could pass for someone at least 10 years younger, was mesmerizing because of his knowledge, his riffs on the piano and his out of the box enthusiasm.

He played his way through the first bars of a Chopin piece, talking almost non stop to the audience  as he did and revealing a few of the tricks of the composing trade in a way none of us had ever seen. Or maybe I'll just speak for myself.

At 24, he was a Yale music professor who got the opportunity to step in for one week as the conductor of the Broadway musical, Nine. That experience made him realize that not only is music not about the musicians or the conductor, it's about the audience and right then he was suddenly overcome with a compulsion that would change his life to help audiences feel about classical music the way people feel about the first popular music they fall in love with and  played over and over again as teenagers.

What he discovered by stepping into conducting that Broadway musical in the middle of its run, is that there is no such thing as getting to rehearse. Rehearsing is sitting in the audience and watching in preparation for being the conductor the next day. No pressure. He managed to pull it off  until it came time at the end to throw a large tambourine onto the stage, to the female lead. He had never done it before and instead of directing it at her, it went flying over her head the way a home run hit strikes the back wall, in this instance a wall of curtains.

A few years ago, he was hired by the Marin County Orchestra to write a symphony to celebrate the 75th anniversary (in 2012) of the Golden Gate Bridge. "What does the bridge sound like?" he asked the audience. "Foghorns" was one man's response. "That's right," he said, practically jumping off the piano stool. Instead of sitting alone in front of his piano, Kapilow got himself out onto the tug boats under the bridge, he listened and he asked questions of the tugboat operators and interviewed people on the street and even interviewed parents whose teenagers had, tragically, committed suicide off the bridge and that's when he knew he must have a chorus which grew to 100 so he could tell the full story, not just in music but through words  and he must have this and that and...you get the idea.

He wouldn't be the easiest guy to work with but he would get it done, and uniquely, no matter how many people ended up thinking he was a pain in the butt. Hey, no pain, no gain, no creativity.

I could go on and on about him but really all you need to know is that in his new book, What Makes it Great, which you can buy off iTunes or even the old fashioned way, you can read about some of the famous classical music pieces you love, assuming you do, and hear those parts he's talking about at the same time, right in your own living room. It will be almost as good as him being there. Nah. It wouldn't. But it would be the next best thing.

But the e-book/book here.

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