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Spreading the Joy of J.S. Bach in the Subways of Philadelphia and Cities Throughout the World!

Kenneth Hutchins
Musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra participating in BACH IN THE SUBWAYS, 2017 at SEPTA's Jefferson Station. Musicians (left to right): Barbara Govatos, violin; Julia Li, violin; Yumi Kendall, cello; and Kerri Ryan, viola.

Cellist Dale Henderson began performing Bach’s Cello Suites in the subways of New York City in 2010, determined to spread the wonders of Bach. Today, Henderson's project— Bach in the Subways— has grown exponentially as thousands mark Bach's birthday week with free performances in subways, and other public venues across the globe.

In Philadelphia, this year, Bach in the Subways is from March 21 to 25th. Performers include members of The Philadelphia Orchestra as well as amateur musicians who have other day jobs.

Bach in the Subways grew each year, with additional musicians joining Henderson on Bach's birthday. In 2011, there were three. The next year, there were 13, then 40; by 2014, 77 musicians in eight cities in America, Canada, Germany, and Taiwan were participating.

Each year, the effort increased in numbers and locations, spilling out of the subways to parks and street corners. 

It's now grown to thousands of musicians around the world marking Bach’s birthday week from March 21st to the 25th with free performances in the subways and other public spaces.  

The local effort is organized by organist James Pavlock, who is a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's office. "I've been a longtime Bach enthusiast, and came across the Bach in the Subways website a couple of years ago. I saw that Philadelphia didn't yet have much participation, and thought that we should step up our game!" 

What these musicians have in common is a love of Bach and classical music and a desire to share it, especially with those who are hearing it  for the first time.  "It's a great concept," says Pavlock, "that commuters can come upon by surprise the beautiful music of Bach." 

John Koen, a cellist with The Philadelphia Orchestra who will be participating, talks about why playing and listening to Bach is such a wonderful experience for him.

"Bach. It’s as simple and as complicated as you want it to be. As much attention you can give to it, his music will reward you, and this is true for most music. You can listen to it almost like background music—and still get something out of it—enjoyment of the sound. 

But if you listen to what’s happening, he will develop his ideas, and thread them throughout the piece, and will pull you along on a journey that in many cases is really spiritual, and that’s what I love about it so much." 

More information

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.