BLAME IT ALL ON “BRANDENBURG”

album cover (cover of 1969 album that included "Brandenburg")

Once upon a time in 1969, I was a lonely, reserved teenager starting her freshman year in college. While listening to my favorite groovy freeform radio station, for the first time ever I was turned-on to a rock/classical fusion song. The result was a mélange that created a “humanities moment” which altered my life forever and kicked off a lifelong addiction. I was a devoted listener to WIBA-FM 101.5 Radio Free Madison format from its inception, debuting on Halloween night in 1969. This exciting new radio concept commenced as a five-hours-a-night, seven days a week freeform format with varied musical styles. One magical night in the winter of 1969, I heard the rock group New York Rock and Roll Ensemble’s new recording “Brandenburg.” This song worked its way into my consciousness. I craved hearing it again and again, although it was not repeated often on that kind of station. Exactly what kind of song was this that received my rapt attention? "Brandenburg" starts off with a "straight" rendition of J. S. Bach's first movement of his Fifth Brandenburg Concerto (featuring two oboes, guitar and cello) which gradually transitions into a rock song with electric guitars and drums while continuing to use Bach for its musical base.Three of the five members of the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble were Juilliard trained musicians. In 1969 I didn’t own a stereo or buy albums. I relied solely on my favorite radio station for my favorite music. I now own a pristine original copy of the 1969 vinyl album on which that the song originally appeared. It was a stroke of luck to find a collector at a record fair with a copy for sale. What transpired next was something that kept snowballing and is still an addiction even now. Back in 1969 I decided to collect a list of similar examples of rock music borrowing melodies from classical music. It started as a two page handwritten list. I researched the topic in libraries and recording archives, purchased a stereo, and began collecting recordings. I began attending many rock concerts and even enlisted my mother and brother to help with various research and compilation work. I soon found out that classical melodies turned up in all rock decades (1950’s through today), rock genres (pop, metal, rap, all types!), and rock national origins (U.S., U.K., Japan, Germany, Hungary, Brazil, all over the world!). The fascinating challenge of identifying sources of classical themes in recordings which did not give credit to the original classical composer was like solving a puzzle. When I finally mustered the courage and identified enough examples I submitted a book proposal to several publishers and amazingly one finally said “yes”! Thus I published my discography Rockin’ the Classics and Classicizin’ the Rock in 1985 and its two supplements published in 1991 and 2000. Most major libraries bought copies, as did a few small libraries and individuals. But I’ll never get rich from those sales! The research and the publishing were a labor of love. I summoned up some more courage and started a website: Rock-Classical Connection Web Page. The website brought me some fame with rock fans who shared my addiction. Fans responded from most states in the U.S. and from countries all over the world. Rock performers themselves have been in contact with me and even helped me get backstage a couple of times. I was invited to speak at the 33rd annual conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections in 1999. I was interviewed by the local weekly newspaper Isthmus and by two local radio stations. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to be interviewed on my favorite radio station of old. Much to my dismay, their freeform format had disappeared years earlier. In 2001, the music magazine Progression invited me to write the article “The Nexus of Classical and Rock.” I jumped at all of those opportunities as it was so effortless to put energy into a topic I was immersed in and loved so much. Would I do it all over again? You bet, in a New York minute, a New York Rock and Roll Ensemble minute that is!

Janell Duxbury

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