Simone Dinnerstein at the Apple Store Soho on March 29, 2013 in New York City.

Simone Dinnerstein at the Apple Store Soho on March 29, 2013 in New York City.

Simone Dinnerstein began studying the piano later in life than most concert pianists. She dropped out of Julliard for a while. And she struggled for recognition. Then she scraped together the funds to record Bach’s Goldberg Variations – and her career took off. The album ranked number one on the U.S. Billboard Classical Music chart its first week out. Three subsequent solo albums also topped the charts. Now she’s taking classical music to public schools with a new endeavor she calls “Bachpacking.” Simone Dinnerstein speaks with Diane about her new album and why she’s passionate about sharing her love of Bach.


  • Simone Dinnerstein Concert pianist. Her new album is "Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias."

Sample Sounds Of “J.S. Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias”

An Honest Guide To Bach’s Inventions: Bachpacking To School


  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. As a classical pianist, Simone Dinnerstein has enjoyed successes that have eluded many of the most talented musicians. Her four solo albums have topped the classical music charts. She's played to a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall. Now she has a new album out titled, "Bach: Inventions and Sinfonias." Bach's inventions were the first keyboard pieces by the composer that Dinnerstein remembers hearing. She was just nine years old. Now she's introducing other children to the beauty of Bach.

  • 11:07:36

    MS. DIANE REHMSimone Dinnerstein joins me. I hope you will be part of the program. Give us a call. Share your own love of classical music, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Follow us on Facebook. Or send us a tweet. Simone, it's good to see you again.

  • 11:08:02

    MS. SIMONE DINNERSTEINIt's wonderful to be back here.

  • 11:08:03

    REHMSo glad you're here. Talk about Bach-packing and what it's all about.

  • 11:08:11

    DINNERSTEINWell, I love visiting schools and I wanted to do a project where I could go into classrooms and be close to the kids as opposed to in a big auditorium playing for them. And, of course, the thing that holds me back from a situation like that is actually a piano; because how do you get a piano into a classroom? And I kept thinking, if I could just put a piano into my backpack and go into the schools and play, that would be excellent.

  • 11:08:36

    REHMWhat a great idea. Put one into your backpack.

  • 11:08:40

    DINNERSTEINRight. Into my backpack. So I actually talked to Yamaha and they have some really, really wonderful digital keyboards that are very high quality. And they agreed to help me with this project. And they provided digital keyboards for all of the schools that I went to. And so, I thought, well, instead of calling it back packing, I'll call it Bach-packing.

  • 11:09:03

    REHMI love it. So where did you begin the project, in New York or in Washington?

  • 11:09:11

    DINNERSTEINIn New York City. Yeah. And that was quite complicated because I actually had to put together the whole project myself. So I had to find the schools and talk to the principals and the music teachers and organize the schedules. And it was -- I think I played in maybe, I can't remember, it was, like, around 10 schools I went to.

  • 11:09:32

    REHMAnd how did those school administrators react?

  • 11:09:38

    DINNERSTEINThey were really wonderful. I mean, they were really keen on it happening. And the music teachers were amazing. I mean, they wanted to know how they could prepare the children for my visit. And they were -- it was great, because I went to parts of the city that I had never been to. And I grew up in New York City and I live there now. But I felt that it was very important that I reach out to communities that might not normally have people from the arts visiting their schools.

  • 11:10:10

    REHMSuch as?

  • 11:10:11

    DINNERSTEINSo I went to the South Bronx. I went to East New York and Brooklyn. I went to Harlem, to Morningside Heights, to Washington Heights. I played in Chinatown. That was very interesting. I played at a school that was, it seemed to me, 100 percent Chinese children in the school.

  • 11:10:32

    REHMHow did the teachers prepare them for your visit?

  • 11:10:38

    DINNERSTEINWell, they talked to the children about Bach. And I saw different, like, pictures of Bach on the wall when I arrived. And they also did things like play some of my YouTube videos of me playing, for the children, so the kids knew who I was before I arrived.

  • 11:10:54

    REHMBut Bach's music can be quite complicated. It's not simple music, the likes of which they're ordinarily used to listening to. So there might have been kind of a resistance, even?

  • 11:11:17

    DINNERSTEINWell, I don't think -- I think that children are incredibly open to new things. And that's one of the reasons why I think it's such a shame that we don't do more to help expose them to beautiful, beautiful cultured things. I mean, I think that Bach is a composer that will add a lot to everyone's lives, by listing to them and appreciating it. And I think those children deserve a chance to hear his music and have some understanding of it. So what I do first, when I go into a classroom, before I really talk to them, I play one of the Inventions, which is quite lively.

  • 11:11:59

    DINNERSTEINAnd immediately they -- they're like looking at my hands and they are excited.

  • 11:12:04

    REHMSo how about we hear one of the Inventions from your new album. Tell us about Invention No. 8 in F Major.

  • 11:12:20

    DINNERSTEINWell, this is one of the most popular of the Inventions. Pretty much any piano student will have studied this at some point. And it's very upbeat and fun, and the hands are flying around the keyboard.

  • 11:13:08

    REHMThey must be so impressed to see your fingers flying.

  • 11:13:14

    DINNERSTEINThey are. And the teachers have told me that, when I finish playing, they'll tell me that afterwards, while I was playing, they were looking at the children's faces and their mouths kind of fall open. It's quite funny. I've seen some photographs of them while I've played the piece, and I would not have been aware of what they're doing while I'm playing. And they just make the funniest expressions, because many of them haven't ever seen a pianist -- a classical pianist play. And so...

  • 11:13:44

    REHMAnd certainly not up close.

  • 11:13:45

    DINNERSTEINUp close, like that. And so the way I always arrange it is I have my back to them and they're sitting on the rug around me, around my back, so they could see my hands.

  • 11:13:56

    REHMHow many students ordinarily at a time?

  • 11:14:00

    DINNERSTEINIt's usually about between 20 and 30 kids there, depending on the size of the classroom. I like to play for one class at a time.

  • 11:14:08

    REHMAnd I would assume, Simone, that very few of these children are piano students themselves.

  • 11:14:18

    DINNERSTEINWell, that's very much dependent on the neighborhood you play in. It's quite striking, you know. I played -- and when I played in Washington D.C., I played at a charter school, The Washington Latin Charter School, which was a really amazing school. And in that classroom, I would say maybe 75 percent of them study piano. But when I visited the school in Harlem, really almost none of them played. If they played an instrument, they played a band instrument that they were leaning in school. But they weren't learning piano.

  • 11:14:50

    REHMWhy did you decide on Bach?

  • 11:14:55

    DINNERSTEINTo bring to the children?

  • 11:14:56


  • 11:14:57

    DINNERSTEINWell, it was partially tied to me having just recorded these pieces, "The Inventions," which were my first experience with Bach. And I think that, in my opinion, Bach's music doesn't really have a feeling of belonging to a particular period of time. There's something very abstract about it. It doesn't feel historical to me. And I think that that's one of the reasons why people from many different walks of life and different genres of music relate to Bach's music, because they can -- it reflects their own interests.

  • 11:15:32

    DINNERSTEINSo you could be somebody who's into jazz, and you can just listen to Bach and you will definitely hear the connection between Bach's music and jazz. Or you could be somebody who is into techno music and you would completely see how those patterns that are in Bach would have led to techno.

  • 11:15:52

    REHMBut, at the same time, most of these children are used to listening to music from the 21st century and not Bach.

  • 11:16:05

    DINNERSTEINThat is true. And so my main goal with teaching them about Bach, is to help have them hear two independent voices at the same time, which is something that they're just not used to hearing.

  • 11:16:21

    REHMTalk about the two voices.

  • 11:16:24

    DINNERSTEINSo the two-part Inventions, which is what we're listening to, is Bach teaching keyboard players how to do one melodic voice in the right hand and another melodic voice in the left hand. And we call them voices as opposed to anything else, because he really wrote mostly with the human voice in mind. And so he thinks about singing lines. And the right hand is doing one singing line, the left hand's doing another singing line. And they're equally important. They're equally interesting and difficult. And they're happening at the same time.

  • 11:16:58

    REHMTell us about Bach himself, his own career, his own interest in music early on.

  • 11:17:10

    DINNERSTEINWell, Bach's -- his life was built on music in the most all-encompassing way. I mean, I don't really think we have any equivalent today of the kind of career that Bach led. He did -- he was an amazing teacher. He had a job teaching choirs. He played the organ. He knew how to repair organs. He would travel around Germany repairing organs. He led ensembles playing, you know, with small, orchestral ensembles. He had to write a cantata each week for the church.

  • 11:17:47

    REHMHow old was he when he began writing music?

  • 11:17:52

    DINNERSTEINVery young. Yeah. And he also had a complete classical education, too. I mean, it wasn't that he only knew about music. He was leaning about Greek and Latin and math and all sorts of things.

  • 11:18:03

    REHMWhat kind of background did he come from?

  • 11:18:07

    DINNERSTEINHis family was all musical. So he came from a family of musicians. And he created a family of musicians. On top of that, he had many, many children. I mean, I think it was -- I always get confused -- I think it's 22 children he had with two wives. And many of them passed away unfortunately. He had a hard life.

  • 11:18:28

    REHMSimone Dinnerstein. She is, of course, a concert pianist. She last appeared on "The Diane Rehm Show" in December 2011. We'll take a short break here. I welcome your calls, your comments. Stay with us.

  • 11:20:10

    REHMAnd welcome back. Simone Dinnerstein is with me. She is of course a concert pianist. She has begun a program in schools, taking the music of Bach to schools in New York, in Washington. Anywhere else yet?

  • 11:20:35

    DINNERSTEINI don't have -- I'm going to do some more in New York in March because unfortunately we had a big snowstorm. And the culminating concert for them didn't work so it's been rescheduled. But I would like this to become a regular part of what I do. And hopefully I will be able to arrange all of my future seasons to visit schools wherever I am playing in concert.

  • 11:21:00

    REHMGood. Here's an email from Allison in Traverse City, Mich. She says, "I'm deeply moved by your interpretations. I'm an amateur flutist or flautist, whichever you prefer, for most of my life until I could no longer hold the instrument due to arthritis in my thumb. At age 61 I wanted to learn to play the piano. But not having studied as a child is hard to coordinate both hands. I love practicing. I've enjoyed playing the piano for at least a dozen years. What advice might you have to help me interpret and practice Bach?"

  • 11:21:57

    DINNERSTEINWell, I congratulate her for starting piano later on.

  • 11:22:02

    REHMI should say.

  • 11:22:02

    DINNERSTEINI mean, it's wonderful. I used to teach a lot and I had a number of retired piano students who just took it up with me. I taught them from the beginning. Learning how to play counterpoint to where you have your right hand and left hand playing different things at the same time is very, very difficult. And it doesn't come naturally to everyone. But I do think it is possible to teach yourself how to do that, especially if you have a teacher who can help you. But it has to be broken down to very small pieces.

  • 11:22:37

    DINNERSTEINI think that even when you're setting an invention -- when I used to teach the inventions to my students I would really have them learn just a little bit at a time because it's very difficult to coordinate. I mean, there's really not much else in our life where we have to do two different motions that require different thought patterns at the same time.

  • 11:23:02

    REHMI mean, typing is an abbreviated form of doing two different things…

  • 11:23:10


  • 11:23:10 the same time. Letting the head stop thinking and simply going to the memorization of where keys are.

  • 11:23:24


  • 11:23:24

    REHMAnd going through those is a much, much more simplified version of what you do with Bach. But it is that same...

  • 11:23:37

    DINNERSTEINThe connection -- I would say that playing Bach would be like having two typewriters. And one typewriter you're writing one story and on the other typewriter you're writing another story.

  • 11:23:46

    REHMOh, that's a great way to put it. I like it. Tell us about Invention Number 1 in C Major.

  • 11:23:58

    DINNERSTEINWell, this was the first invention that I ever learned. And it's, in a way, the clearest in showing counterpoint. It shows very much how one hand plays something, the other hand imitates it. And there's this dialogue between the hands.

  • 11:24:30

    DINNERSTEINSo this is one of the inventions that I play at first for the children. I like to do an exercise with them where I divide them up into two groups. And I have one-half of them sing Twinkle, Twinkle and the other half of them sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat to show how you can play two songs at the same time. And then I lead it into playing this invention for them.

  • 11:25:11

    DINNERSTEINSo what I do is I'd have this thing where I -- they sing the two songs and then I play the two songs for them. I play on my right hand Twinkle, my left hand Row, Row, Row Your Boat and I say, now the people who sang the right-hand part, listen to my right hand. The people who sang the left-hand part, listen to my left hand and keep listening. And then I go into this invention. And they have to try to follow along with my two hands.

  • 11:25:37

    REHMPerfect. Just perfect. How did they react?

  • 11:25:42

    DINNERSTEINWell, first of all, they're always surprised that the two songs actually work together. And then they're usually amazed that I can play the two songs at the same time, which I have to tell you is a bit tricky to learn how to do.

  • 11:25:54

    REHMYeah, yeah.

  • 11:25:56

    DINNERSTEINBut I try to show them that listening to music can be a little bit like a rollercoaster, like you have to hang on. You have to hang on to that melody. If you're listening to the left hand with your ear, you have to try to stay with the left hand. And that's quite difficult to do. It's hard for us to hear lower sounds. It's much easier for us to hear higher pitches.

  • 11:26:18

    REHMInteresting. When did Bach write these and why?

  • 11:26:25

    DINNERSTEINHe wrote them in 1723 and he wrote them as tools really for his own students -- his children and his students. And he wrote a very beautiful introduction to the music where he explains what these are supposed to teach. And he talks about how it's to teach -- it's an honest guide, he says, which I love that phrase -- an honest guide to lovers of the keyboard to teach them how to play with two voices for the inventions and three voices for the symphonias.

  • 11:27:00

    REHMSo he was using them purely as teaching devices.

  • 11:27:07


  • 11:27:07

    REHMAnd yet the Wall Street Journal said your recording of the inventions quote "makes a compelling case for these short pieces as serious piano repertoire. Do you agree?"

  • 11:27:26

    DINNERSTEINI think that they are serious pieces of music. I think that he was such a great teacher that the way that he taught was by writing small masterpieces for his students. I mean, these are -- he taught not by writing an exercise. He taught by writing real music. And each invention explores a different way of treating a musical idea. So if you have a sort of jumpy idea with -- you know, jumpy chords like the first invention that we listened to in F Major Number 8, then he shows, well, if you have an idea like that then you can throw it back and forth between the two hands like this. And this is what you can do.

  • 11:28:09

    DINNERSTEINAnd if you have something that's a very slow and melodic and aria-like invention with an idea like that, then you will treat it in a different type of way.

  • 11:28:20

    REHMAll right. We have a number of phone calls. Let's see what our listeners have to say. First to Preston in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.

  • 11:28:36

    PRESTONYes, hi. Thank you so much for taking my call.

  • 11:28:38


  • 11:28:39

    PRESTONFirst I want to congratulate the guest, such a fine, fine pianist, taking time off to work with young kids in schools like this. That's really phenomenal.

  • 11:28:51

    DINNERSTEINThank you.

  • 11:28:51

    PRESTONI teach at a university, at Washington Adventist University just outside of the district. And we have a program where we take our talented students up to the New England Symphonic Ensemble which is featured regularly at Carnegie Hall. And it's part of an augmentation of their education through the music department. But one thing I can assuredly say is that none of these students that are benefitting from this had a childhood that was devoid of music.

  • 11:29:25

    PRESTONAnd it's really sad to see what's happening by and large in our schools here in America where students are deprived of a music education. It's the first thing cut. And every bit of science shows that a music education has -- it brings skills to the student that are applicable in absolutely every type of learning. So I just want to say kudos to someone who has taken so much time and effort, that's really, really admirable. Thank you for that.

  • 11:29:59

    REHMPreston, thank you so much for your call. Preston is so right, both music and physical education, two things that go first.

  • 11:30:13

    DINNERSTEINYeah, it's really sad. I mean, I think that of course he's right that music -- studying music can affect how you think about many other things. I mean, just think about the whole concept of counterpoint, you know, being able to balance two different ideas at the same time. Being able to have the fine motor skills to manipulate your fingers to follow your brain to do that. I mean, those are very complex things which hopefully would make you good at other skills outside of music.

  • 11:30:44

    DINNERSTEINBut I also think that music is an end unto itself. I mean, I think that having a love of Bach and Beethoven and Mozart and Brahms and Duke Ellington and Michael Jackson, I mean, all of those people, that enriches us as people. I mean, we look to art to help elevate our thoughts and our feelings about life. And I don't even think you need to say that music needs to help something else. Music is in itself a wonderful thing to have in your life.

  • 11:31:20

    REHMNow, what about adults? We've already had one email from someone who really, really wants to improve her piano skills. But what about starting as an adult? What's your thinking on that? How difficult is it for the adult brain to adapt to those separate and sometimes unequal motions?

  • 11:31:54

    DINNERSTEINWell, my personal experience with working with adults was that it was immensely challenging and immensely satisfying for them in a very deep way. And, in fact, I didn't have a single adult student who didn't, at one point, cry in a lesson. Not because I was being tough, but because they felt vulnerable in some way and exposed -- you know, they were professionals. These were people that had already achieved so much in their lives. And here they were starting from scratch with something that was so challenging.

  • 11:32:25

    DINNERSTEINI think as a piano teach at that point, I felt it was really my responsibility to choose repertoire for them where they could excel. So if somebody wanted to play Bach, I might start them off with a prelude which was less contrapuntally challenging, but still Bach. You know, where one hand maybe had a little bit more to do than the other hand.

  • 11:32:47

    REHMWhat about the Handbook of Anna Magdalena Bach?

  • 11:32:51

    DINNERSTEINYes, that's a great place to start.

  • 11:32:52


  • 11:32:53


  • 11:32:54

    REHMThat's where I began.

  • 11:32:55


  • 11:32:56

    REHMAnd it was so rewarding. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's hear a bit of Invention Number 9 in F Minor. Tell us about that.

  • 11:33:13

    DINNERSTEINWell, this is quite a slow, melodic, sad, expressive invention. This is another side of Bach, which I particularly love.

  • 11:33:51

    DINNERSTEINIn this invention, the left hand, of course, has to also play expressively. And that is something that is very difficult to do at first. Even now it's hard to do because if you're sort of right-hand oriented, as most people are, we tend to be expressive with our strong hand. But here the left hand is almost like a male singer with tenor singing. And he has to be just as expressive as the right hand. So this is a way that Bach is teaching us how do you do that. How do you do that with your left hand?

  • 11:34:46

    REHMI wonder if there was a great sadness in his life.

  • 11:34:55

    DINNERSTEINOh, I'm sure there was so much sadness. I mean, I was just at the Bach Museum last summer in Leipzig, and they had his family tree. And you look at all of his children and how many of them died under the age of two. And, you know, I can't imagine that. I mean, losing one child is horrible but imagine losing ten, you know.

  • 11:35:42

    REHMI'm sure those children love to see you do those trills.

  • 11:35:48

    DINNERSTEINOh yes, the trills were a big hit. In fact, I used as an example another invention, the one in D Minor, which was the first invention that I remember hearing when I went to music school. I started going to music school when I was nine, the Manhattan School of Music Precollege. I'd go every Saturday all day long. I'd leave the house at 6:00 in the morning and get home at 7:00 at night.

  • 11:36:13

    REHMBy yourself.

  • 11:36:14

    DINNERSTEINNo, no, no. My mother -- my devoted mother took me.

  • 11:36:17

    REHMOkay. All right.

  • 11:36:18

    DINNERSTEINYeah, she had to shluff me up there to Harlem. And we had a class called music hour where we would perform for each other. Whoever had something ready had to get up to the front, bow, everybody clapped. It was like sort of a training in how to perform. And it was a way that I discovered a lot of music by listening to other children play pieces. And then I would want to play the music that they were playing.

  • 11:36:41

    DINNERSTEINAnd so a girl who was a couple of years older than me played this invention very quickly, which is I think quite a common approach to the D Minor Invention. And I was tremendously impressed and I thought it was just amazing. And I went to my teacher and I said, I want to learn the D Minor Invention. And he said to me, you are not ready to learn this. You can't do it. And so I said to the children, there is something in this invention that at age 9 I couldn't do. And then I played the invention for them. I say, you have to listen out because at the end I want you to tell me what was the thing that I wouldn't have been able to do when I was 9 years old?

  • 11:37:20

    REHMSimone Dinnerstein and we're talking about her music, the Bach Inventions. We'll take just a short break here. More of your calls when we come back.

  • 11:40:02

    REHMAnd the inevitable tweet for you, Simone Dinnerstein, can you please offer some advice on replicating this education initiative in other parts of the country?

  • 11:40:19

    DINNERSTEINWell, I mean it would be great if lots of musicians did this, not just me. And many, many musicians do go into schools. I mean, I'm not the only person going into schools. People are doing it all over the place. I feel that it's very important for me to have a part of my life that is doing volunteer work. So this is what I view as my voluntary work, is going into schools.

  • 11:40:49

    DINNERSTEINI want to share something with students and it's not about being remunerated for doing it. It's about the service of doing it. And I think that it would be great if a lot of musicians would do that locally, even with their own schools in their neighborhood. I think children like to know people that are from their own community. You know, it makes sense to them.

  • 11:41:13

    REHMGood point. Yeah, but what about your touring around the country? Have you incorporated some of these kinds of concerts at schools or performances there?

  • 11:41:28

    DINNERSTEINYeah, I mean I've always done concerts in schools, but now that I've created this idea of Bach-packing and hopefully will have a continuous relationship with Yamaha, with them helping with this -- because they're actually a global company. So this could even possibly work when I am abroad. I hope that my management and everybody can get together so that wherever I happen to be traveling I would do a visit to a school.

  • 11:41:56

    REHMHow many concerts are you doing a year here in this country?

  • 11:42:02

    DINNERSTEINGosh, I haven't counted. I mean, I think I do around -- I don't do so many compared to other concert musicians. I do around 50 concerts a year.

  • 11:42:11


  • 11:42:12


  • 11:42:14

    REHMWhoa. And how about abroad?

  • 11:42:17

    DINNERSTEINThat probably includes going…

  • 11:42:19


  • 11:42:20

    DINNERSTEINYeah, I mean, that means that I'm away from home about half of each month, which is about as much as I want to be away from home.

  • 11:42:26

    REHMYeah, I can understand that. All right. Let's go to back to the phones to Chris, in Jacksonville, Fla. You're on the air.

  • 11:42:39

    CHRISThank you very much, Diane, for taking my call.

  • 11:42:40


  • 11:42:42

    CHRISSimone, I wanted to also echo the previous caller's statements about how the work that you do is so incredibly important. And I have nothing but kudos to give you for what you do.

  • 11:42:51

    DINNERSTEINThank you.

  • 11:42:51

    CHRISThank you for that.

  • 11:42:52


  • 11:42:52

    CHRISThe question I had is you had mentioned Yamaha again, and specifically that they're helping you with the Bach-packing. The question I had, though, was in your opinion do you think that electronic instruments have now approached or possibly even surpassed the level of the more traditional wood and steel instruments, like the Grand Pianos, both in quality of sound and maybe in tactile steel. Where are they at in terms of the two types of instruments?

  • 11:43:19

    DINNERSTEINWell, digital keyboards are a horse of a different color, I think. They have improved so much. I mean it's really incredible the things that they're doing. Yamaha has an instrument called an AvantGrand, which is a bit eerie because it's an acoustic piano, so it has strings and hammers and all of that. And then you flick a switch and the hammers hit sensors instead of strings.

  • 11:43:47

    DINNERSTEINSo it becomes a digital piano. And the advantage to that is you can put on headphones, nobody can hear you, but you have the tactile feeling of playing on a real acoustic instrument. I, of course, will always prefer an acoustic instrument because they are so sensitive and the sound is real. The sound is -- you're creating that sound by a hammer hitting the stings. And how you vary your attack is going to vary the sound.

  • 11:44:14

    DINNERSTEINHowever, I do think that for many people a digital instrument is a fantastic option because now they have weighted keys, where when you press the keys down you have to use effort. It feels like you're playing on a real instrument. And the sound is really great and it stays in tune. You don't need to pay for a tuner.

  • 11:44:37

    DINNERSTEINAnd certainly for my project it's ideal because it's very transportable and it also has lots of different interesting effects. So I can show the kids what a harpsichord sounds like or what a pipe organ sounds like, just by pressing a different button.

  • 11:44:54

    REHMHope that helps, Chris. Thank you.

  • 11:44:57

    CHRISThank you.

  • 11:44:57

    REHMAnd indeed, one of our other emailers, Doug, in west Texas, says, "On exactly what kind of keyboard instrument are you playing the Bach Inventions? Is it a period instrument or a modern one? Did Bach compose these pieces originally for harpsichord?"

  • 11:45:26

    DINNERSTEINWell, I've been using different models of Yamaha digital keyboards, depending on what they have available. So I couldn't even list you the model numbers because I'm not good at remembering the model numbers. But when I play for the kids I normally play using a Grand Piano sound. And then I will give them examples of other sounds.

  • 11:45:48

    DINNERSTEINHowever, Bach wrote this for harpsichord, clavichord -- those were the two main instruments that would have played the two-part Inventions.

  • 11:45:56

    REHMAnd tell us about Invention No. 6 in E Major.

  • 11:46:02

    DINNERSTEINThis is a wonderful Invention that is really all about syncopation. And so it's a great opportunity for me to talk to children about rhythm. And I try to show them that, you know, we tend to think of the beat, a pulse, strong beats. And then when you go against those beats, then suddenly everything changes. And it feels somewhat unstable, but also exciting.

  • 11:47:24

    DINNERSTEINSo with this Invention I always have them come up and do rhythmic exercises. It's a lot of fun. And they're clapping the beats and then they're feeling the off beats. And some schools, the kids all have rhythm and other schools the kids have no rhythm. It's very interesting.

  • 11:47:44

    REHMBut on the other hand, I would wager that when they hear Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, as we're about to hear, they understand rhythm.

  • 11:48:36

    DINNERSTEINSo I always talk about Jay-Z to the kids because first of all, it connects them to something they know. They're always shocked that I like Jay-Z. And then I say, "Think about duets. What is a duet?" You know, 'cause Inventions are duets. And they'll say, "Oh, it's when two people sing together." And I'm like, "Yes. And think about Jay-Z and Alicia Keys." They all know this song. And I'll say, "Do they ever sing at the same time?"

  • 11:49:03

    DINNERSTEINAnd they're like, "No, of course they never sing at the same time. We wouldn't understand what they were saying."

  • 11:49:43

    DINNERSTEINSo this is an example where Jay-Z just rapped and he handed it over to Alicia Keys. And Jay-Z's quite interesting because he does a lot of collaborations with other singers who have different styles than him, but they never actually layer at the same time. And so I show the children that Bach, his feeling about duets was about equality. And that having two different things at the same time and the conflict that is created by having two separate, interesting lines, is a different way of thinking about music.

  • 11:50:20

    DINNERSTEINBut then I always say to them -- and someday I have to meet Jay-Z to ask him this…

  • 11:50:22

    REHMYou haven't met him?

  • 11:50:24

    DINNERSTEINI haven't met Jay-Z, but I always say to the kids, "And if you ask Jay-Z about Bach, he would say, 'Oh, he was one of the greatest.'"

  • 11:50:33

    REHMThat's terrific.

  • 11:50:34

    DINNERSTEINSo I hope he likes Bach.

  • 11:50:36

    REHMAll right. Let's go back to the phones to Birmingham, Mich. Hi, Elaine. You're on the air.

  • 11:50:46

    ELAINEHi, Diane.

  • 11:50:46


  • 11:50:47

    ELAINEI really enjoy your show and I have to balance it with listening to my favorite classical music station. It's a little tricky. I just wanted to ask the name of the book. I was exposed to classical music early in life by my mother. I feel so blessed. And I just love the fact that you're exposing kids to it. It's something they might not hear otherwise.

  • 11:51:06

    ELAINEAnd I just wanted to ask you the name of the book you mentioned earlier in the program that you studied…

  • 11:51:11

    REHM"The Handbook of Anna Magdalena Bach."

  • 11:51:15


  • 11:51:16

    ELAINEOh, right.

  • 11:51:16

    DINNERSTEINYou're talking about the music.

  • 11:51:18


  • 11:51:19

    ELAINEYes, yes, yes. That's it. Anna Magdalena, okay. I was not familiar with that. Good. Thank you.

  • 11:51:24

    REHMHe wrote that for his wife.

  • 11:51:27


  • 11:51:29

    REHMWho, I gather, wanted to be a pianist.

  • 11:51:34


  • 11:51:36

    REHMHow good was she? Do we know?

  • 11:51:38

    DINNERSTEINWell, I think she was supposed to be pretty good. And I think she even composed herself. And they had a beautiful edition of it at that Bach museum.

  • 11:51:47

    REHMDid they?

  • 11:51:48

    DINNERSTEINWith a beautiful cover. It was like a heart in the cover. It was very sweet.

  • 11:51:54

    REHMOh, I can remember working on those and just loving them. All right. Let's go to Norman, in Cleveland Heights. You're on the air.

  • 11:52:11

    NORMANHi. I can't get my left hand to go differently from my right on the piano. And so therefore I play saxophone. I'm a teacher. I'm an educator. I'm 67 years old. I'm from New York City, as well. And I went to PS 225, which was a pioneer in elementary school music. And then went to Lincoln High School, where Abraham Lass, who had been the principal, had originally had a gig playing piano in the movie theaters.

  • 11:52:45

    NORMANAnd when the talkies came out, he went back to school, became a teacher, became a principal, always made sure that he had the best -- sorry -- that he had the music teacher they could get. And so to my high school went Buddy Rich, Herbie Mann, Neil Diamond…

  • 11:53:09


  • 11:53:09

    NORMAN…The Tokens, Neil Sedaka. And this wasn't no music and art high school. This wasn't performing arts. This was a regular academic high school in Coney Island.

  • 11:53:23

    REHMNorman, what a terrific story. Just absolutely wonderful. All right. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I think we have time to listen to one more Invention. It's No. 14 in B Flat Major.

  • 11:54:09

    REHMIt sounds so clean and almost simple.

  • 11:54:16


  • 11:54:17

    REHMBut yet, the complexity of the sound.

  • 11:54:22

    DINNERSTEINWell, this is one of my favorite inventions. And it has a deceptive simplicity to it because actually what Bach is doing is so interesting between the two hands. He takes this beautiful little melody, da, da, da, da, dum, and he passes it back and forth, but sometimes what he'll do is have one hand do it in its original form, then the other hand does it upside down.

  • 11:54:52

    DINNERSTEINWhen you first listen to it you don't hear that, but that's what's going on. And the voices, like over here, this is a beautiful moment because they're playing in parallel motion. They finally joined up together and are doing the same thing at the same time, which is so satisfying to us. That's how we normally sing, the same thing in harmony. And then they break apart again and are singing in imitation. This is a beautiful piece.

  • 11:55:21

    REHMYou must be awfully happy doing what you're doing, both as a concert pianist and taking your Bach-packing into schools.

  • 11:55:36

    DINNERSTEINYes. I have a very fortunate life, for sure. I mean, I'm playing the music that I love and getting to share it with people and children. And I've always loved working with children and traveling. I just was in Germany this weekend and got to meet the German children there. It was lovely. So being a pianist is both a very solitary existence and an extremely social one. It's an interesting combination.

  • 11:56:07

    REHMSo how many hours a day are you devoting to rehearsal?

  • 11:56:13

    DINNERSTEINWell, when I can, when I'm at home or near a piano, I'll spend the whole day practicing. So I'll practice six or seven hours in the day. And then I have to snatch what I can when I'm on the road. So it's…

  • 11:56:28

    REHMI hesitate to ask what you do for relaxation.

  • 11:56:35

    DINNERSTEINOh, gosh, I mean, I've been in a terrible streak of crossword puzzles. It's really, really bad. I've been doing endless crossword puzzles, in an obsessive compulsive way.

  • 11:56:50

    REHMGood for you. Good for you. Simone Dinnerstein and we've been hearing this morning all about her Bach-packing for schools around the country. Certainly in New York and Washington and, who knows where else.

  • 11:57:11


  • 11:57:13

    REHMThank you so much for being here. It was wonderful.

  • 11:57:17

    DINNERSTEINOh, thank you for having me on. It was great to talk with you.

  • 11:57:19

    REHMLove to hear this music, as I'm sure our listeners do as well. Thanks to you for tuning in today. I'm Diane Rehm.

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