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Jeffrey McFarland-Johnson | Guitello Bach Cello Suites 1,2,3

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Guitello Bach Cello Suites 1,2,3

by Jeffrey McFarland-Johnson

The J.S. Bach solo cello suites (composed 1713-1720) performed on a fretted five-string guitar tuned in fifths that is flat-picked by a cellist who has played for 50 years.
Genre: Classical: Bach
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Suite 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: I. Prelude
2:56 $0.99
2. Suite 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: II. Allemande
6:07 $0.99
3. Suite 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: III. Courante
3:05 $0.99
4. Suite 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: IV. Sarabande
3:57 $0.99
5. Suite 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: V. Menuet 1 & 2
2:54 $0.99
6. Suite 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: VI. Gigue
1:40 $0.99
7. Suite 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: I. Prelude
4:30 $0.99
8. Suite 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: II. Allemande
3:59 $0.99
9. Suite 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: III. Courante
2:50 $0.99
10. Suite 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: IV. Sarabande
6:19 $0.99
11. Suite 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: V. Menuet 1 & 2
2:54 $0.99
12. Suite 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008: VI. Gigue
2:57 $0.99
13. Suite 3 in C Major, BWV 1009: I. Prelude
4:50 $0.99
14. Suite 3 in C Major, BWV 1009: II. Allemande
3:56 $0.99
15. Suite 3 in C Major, BWV 1009: III. Courante
3:23 $0.99
16. Suite 3 in C Major, BWV 1009: IV. Sarabande
5:28 $0.99
17. Suite 3 in C Major, BWV 1009: V. Bourree 1 & 2
3:42 $0.99
18. Suite 3 in C Major, BWV 1009: VI. Gigue
3:38 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes

This audio CD culminates 50-years of the deepest personal music study, capturing some of the most unique and therapeutic music ever conceived. It bares a sonic reflection of the muse that speaks deep within us all. Eternal music that unlocks the spirit; recorded on a hybrid music instrument (the only one of its kind) embodying the rich 20th century history of the Napa Valley in California. It is comforting to know that in today's world, which seems to be evermore callous to recognize the sensitive spiritual side of the human condition, that there exists many avenues to advance one's innermost being. This CD documents a focused musical journey presented to you, the listener, for your benefit and enjoyment.


Coming to grips with the idea of recording the Bach cello suites is a daunting task. These brilliant pieces are so intimately personal to the performer. Many times I found myself putting off recording them because there is no definitive way to play them as they are such openly conceptual pieces. It cannot be over emphasized how important it is to hear all six movements of a suite in succession, from Prelude to Gigue. A wide range of human emotion is conveyed within the twenty-five minutes of a suite's horizon. Every day, when you play them, they change their sonic complexion according to the season, your demeanor, and the world you live in. I've read how Casals & Rostropovich refused to record the Bach suites when asked, putting this off for years or even decades. And then, after recording them, their careers catapulted anew into the public limelight; not that that was their intended goal or aspiration.

So, recently, it came to pass that it became my time to record the suites. I've been handed the mantle to carry on the tradition set before me by the Master. The situation unfolded through my association with a sound engineer friend of mine, Donald Setaro. Through Donald's connections, we were able to rent a 444-seat auditorium on January 3-4, 2013 and record suites #1-3 on the Guitello. We pooled some nice condenser microphones, tube mic preamps, a Mac Pro tower with Pro Tools v.10, and assembled a mobile DAW system off to the side of the performance stage. I had intensely prepared for this recording session six weeks in advance by playing through the first three suites every day, eighteen movements by memory, until I could see the complete score in my sleep and soar through them while playing "air" cello.


In all of Western music, there is no work that has been more influential to me than the six solo cello suites by J.S. Bach. Within these enigmatic pieces lies the essence of human existence, the DNA of human emotion scored for one soloist to interpret. They are not fully documented works, written sometime between 1713-1720. There exists no original autograph copy in Bach's hand. The earliest score of the suites was penned by Anna Magdalena, Bach's second wife (some believe she composed the suites). Whoever composed this music brought forth eternal passages that has fascinated generations of musicians. There exists many interpretations of these pieces, both in score form and in recordings. The suites reach into the listener because they are French dance movements based in folk tradition, the music of the people.

A Unique and Singular Instrument: The GUITELLO

It is for these reasons I came upon the decision to commission David Heitzman to build me an acoustic guitar-like instrument tuned in fifths as a 5-string cello, a violoncello piccolo; the instrument I needed to play the suites with, especially the D-major sixth suite. Bach's sixth cello suite in two sharps is the acme of these suites, a symphony surreptitiously rolled up into one linear musical form. The music contained in the sixth suite has always eluded me because of the complex advanced technique required to play it on a conventional four-stringed cello. In soon time with the Guitello I discovered that by playing the suites on a flat-picked steel-stringed guitar/lute-like instrument tuned in fifths I was able to come up with fresh and vibrant musical interpretations which communicated intimately to a listening audience. With the Guitello I can play musical phrases that contain intricate phrasing that is delicate and full of finesse. I also find that the listening public willingly accepts these suites interpreted on a plucked instrument instead of one that's bowed. I still love to study and interpret the suites on a bowed four-string cello, though. When the instrument was finished, David and I began bantering about various names of what to call this hybrid of an acoustic guitar, cello, and the lute. It was David's mother who finally came up with the name "Guitello." It stuck and it is what it is.

The historical connection of the Guitello to the Napa Valley comes from the fact that David Heitzman, through selective vintner connections, was able to secure some planks of clear cut redwood that were the bottom floor of a 30,000 gallon cabernet wine vat built in the early 1940s by Cesare Mondavi, the father of Peter Sr. and Robert Mondavi. These 6" thick planks were purple and gummy on one side from over 60-years of vintage storage cycles and worm-hole eaten on the other side. David had to extract the 1/8" top from the center of the plank. Whether it's the clear grained redwood, the minerals impregnated in the wood from decades of holding wine, or a combination thereof, the warm vibrant tone of the Guitello's baritone sound is what strikes you first. What also struck me was how the interior of the Guitello body smelled like wine for a number of months!


My music studies began before I could speak language. Music is a language of emotion based on organized sound and silence. Rarely is music thought of as a language, but I beg to differ. How is it that when I perform in public, it is always the children who turn to watch me play and give me their full undivided attention? I believe it is because they don't have those spiritual inhibitors yet established forming firewalls that block any such intervention. People today do not have the time to invest in their own spiritual well-being. Everyone is vastly different from each other, yet, we all crave companionship, adulation, and personal satisfaction.

My first music teacher taught me on the piano from ages 5-12. Beryl Thompson studied piano at Juilliard at one time; she also taught Greek to students of the New Testament Bible, and smoked cigarettes incessantly. She gave me a firm musical foundation, the kernel of truth I needed to springboard forward, and I still have my little Beethoven bust she gave me as a prize for learning my four-octave two-hands major and minor scales. I remember how she would gently tap the top of my hand with the eraser end of a pencil if I made a mistake. She loved me into becoming a musician for which I am eternally grateful for. My mother, who played piano for the church choir, allowed me occasionally to stay at home from school to practice the piano. I recall her saying "Good-bye," and she would go off to work and then return home from work after 5 p.m. to find me still playing the piano. And she would write me excuse notes to school that I was 'sick.' Unfortunately, at the age of twelve, rock 'n roll diverted my attention to my piano studies as guitars and amps became the rage.

At the age of seven I took up the cello in elementary school only because, "It was an instrument that was taller than me," and Mrs. Selvy said that all open positions for bass drum and trumpet had been taken and were now closed, so you could only choose between the violin or the cello. I also remember finding a piece of rosin in the back pouch of my first school cello and biting into it thinking it was a piece of candy. It took a LONG time to get rid of the effects of my teeth sticking together. But, I grew to love playing the cello and coasted through high school in this fashion, all the while playing the guitar on the side.

There was this crucial single moment when I was stirred into believing that I should like to pursue the study of the cello seriously. That was when, by chance, I walked by an open door to a college orchestra rehearsing the Brahms Symphony No.3, with six cellos playing that haunting opening melody of the third movement, Poco Allegretto. I was immediately smitten and vowed to myself that the cello would be my primary instrument from then on. It is still that way today.


As I was completing my senior year at The Conservatory of Music at the University of the Pacific I was given the opportunity of studying the cello at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland with Arto Noras, who placed second in the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition. So, I packed my clothes in my cello case, checked it into baggage and flew to Helsinki to study the cello! I remember having to memorize all my etudes and concerti and my lessons involved practicing four to fourteen hours a day. What else was there to do? I didn't know Finnish and I had no money to travel with, so I just practiced and practiced every day for over a year. For example, at an early cello lesson I remember Arto telling me to play one note for two-hours straight, which I complied with and, consequently, learned a great deal about myself, not just how to play the cello. To relieve me of the tension and anxiety of practicing the cello, I had access to a Stella steel string guitar that I played sitting in the corner on the little hexagon white tile floor of the kitchen. There, I immersed myself in the blues and rock 'n roll and charted the pentatonic patterns which I eventually expanded into a series of method books that illustrate the geometric tonal structural patterns of string instruments tuned in fourths and fifths entitled TONIC TO CHROMATIC.

Upon returning to the USA, I found it difficult, if not impossible to find work as a cellist. There weren't the nine professional orchestras in the San Francisco bay area that Helsinki had to tap from and there wasn't the support for the arts that I had felt in Scandinavia. Nevertheless, I continued to write, compose, practice, learn to play jazz cello and taught privately in addition to working other jobs to get by to make ends meet. After completing my first edition of my guitar method I then met my wife of thirty years. She helped to straighten my life out in terms of learning to work to create and mold your lifestyle. So, I went back to school, got two teaching credentials and taught music and language arts/social studies classes to middle school aged students for twenty-two years. All the while I continued to play weddings, do recitals, and play corporate engagements as well as work constantly in defining myself as a solo performing artist. My projects led me to design and build an electric cello, called the Cellektra, that I would play through a self-contained mobile amplification system with MIDI accompaniments that I arranged and assembled into separate catagories: Classical, Jazz, & Pop/Rock. In those early days I used cassette tape, then CD-Rs, and now I use iPods. I've commissioned specialists in their field to fabricate valve amps and effects pedals to compliment my electric cello, guitar and bass sound. I found that it is extremely important to network with others in achieving your intended goals.

Now, that these recordings on the Guitello are available for the first time and have this excellently produced CD to distribute to listeners across the globe, I listen to this music and it causes the brain to rethink and remind itself to do unfinished tasks, make new contacts, and try out new methods of problem solving that weren't previously implemented. I find this music eternal in both scope and concept, far beyond all other music we listen to currently. The impact this CD brings together is the culmination of the Bach cello suites, a unique instrument, a lifelong devotion to music and some extraordinary recording sessions. I recorded them with varying times of silence between the dance movements so that one can feel the flow of all six movements in a suite in a meditative state as though I'm performing live in front of you. Buy this CD today! You will love this recording. Just put it on repeat and go about your day.



to write a review

Terry Winn

My new "go to" CD!
When I drive my car, the Bach Suites are the calming background music for short or long road trips! Jeffrey Johnson plays with amazing deftness.