There is something magical that happens when I hear some music. Some music touches my soul, moving me in powerful ways to remember a past that essentially is my roots – my foundation. When music is performed in a perfectly appropriate way that brings that song to life, there is emotion. In that word is: motion – the listener is moved.
The choice of Music is a choice of a Path. For some, music is such a significant element of your basic self, you cannot deny it and the love of Music leads you through your life.
Dr. Joseph Baldassarre is a Master. His journey on the Path of Wood and Steel began as soon as he could hold a guitar. His first instrument was guitar and his first teacher was Jimmy Hall.
He is a Professor of Music, Emeritus, at Boise State University (Musicology and Guitar Studies), retired. is a scholar with a master’s degree and other doctorates in medieval music research and performance who plays 57 instruments. Here is his answer when asked what instruments he plays:
“Some are classical, some are period instruments (medieval, renaissance, baroque), some are pop-oriented, etc.. [currently I mostly do] electric guitar, classical guitar, medieval lute, renaissance lute, electric bass, fretless bass, flute, drums, harpsichord, hand (Arabic) percussion, harmonica, sax, banjo, organ, piano,[and others].”
He also sings, arranges and composes.
Pictured at left with his father, Antonio, a builder of medieval, renaissance and baroque instruments. Antonio built many of his son’s instruments including his classical guitars. In the photo, Joe is holding a renaissance lute with 8 courses and 15 strings. On the table is a copy of an early 6 string guitar from the 1800s and a baroque guitar with 5 courses and 10 strings that has 27,000 pieces of inlay mostly on the back and sides. Father knew physics and woodworking. Son knows acoustics. Dr. Joe researched the plans, learned to read and understand the notation and how to play the instruments.
Dr. Joe Baldassarre has multiple albums. On Amazon, I found Luter: featuring music from the 5th to the 15th century. A Luter is a person who plays the lute. On this album, he plays 15 period-specific instruments, sings and narrates.
The there is Young Jane. I listened to it in preparation for writing this article. I was captivated.
Here is a link for the title song: Young Jane/The Minstrel Boy
Some of these songs were written by immigrants more than 200 years past. Personal stories of the common people are shared with a modern listener through the songs. We must share our songs to record our personal individual histories. That being said, I am listening to this wonderful song because of Dr. Joe. It is his ability, talent and skill that arranged, performed and recorded a story from a soldier or a farmer or a wife.
Clear precise tones from an acoustic guitar begins the next song, then another. Each unique and individual. The next song has an excitement to it as Dr. Joe sings a song of John Barleycorn: A real person, an exciting tale of a cruel violent event: a lynching.
Next, a love song with Irish roots. Then an instrumental of English persuasion, followed by a minor work that is intricate and classical. Young Jane is an album filled with a variety of music conceived in times long past.
The stories are captivating, but they would not succeed in capturing my attention if the presenter wasn’t so skilled – so gifted: a minstrel.
Originally, minstrels were the ones tasked with bringing the news. They traveled from village to town to castle with their lute or harp. Social media has given modern minstrels a place to share their songs. It is social media that gives us a way to find music that otherwise would be unavailable.
Dr. Joe Baldassarre’s most recent album departs from the past, but not completely. Influences from medieval times influence the songs that are included on this next album titled: The Path. He describes the style as: Progressive Rock. “It contains medieval, baroque and classic 20-century elements in a rock framework.” He also uses some medieval and baroque instruments, techniques and “a borrowed melody or two from those eras”.
The title song is: The Path of Wood and Steel
Here are the lyrics:
The Path of Wood and Steel
Words and Music by Dr. Joe Baldassarre copyright 2018
I was walking east down main street
‘lectric lights holding night at bay
My cap pulled low across my eyes
Deep in thought with nothing to say.
It was then I awoke to a sound so sweet
A glory to behold
There was a young man playing his red guitar
In every note a story he told
The patrons did not notice
The phrases that he spun
A ransom in his fingers
And the life he had begun
I wonder if he knows what lays ahead
The souls he’ll purify
On his path of wood and steel
There with the grace of God was I
Many, many years ago
There was a boy of only eleven
To all who heard him play
His hands were crafted in heaven.
But his life it took a different road
And the world contained his fate,
But Orpheus was too strong
And the muse would not abate.
Many years have since rolled by.
And my thoughts go back to that night
Wonder when that man might be
And what became of his life
If Cecilia smiled upon him
Or had he found it all a lie
On his path of wood and steel
There with the grace of God was I.
The last song on the album is titled: Blind Eyes Closed.
To give you an idea of how a Master with two doctorates and a lifetime of traveling A Path of Wood and Steel describes a song. I share with you what Dr. Joe Baldassarre wrote to me about the last song on the album: Blind Eyes Closed.
Dr. Joe Baldassarre:
“The recent “Neo-com” movement seems to be moving us back to virtual slavery (low wages), State’s rights (Civil War), higher education that is only accessible by the rich and lower education that is controlled (for content) by the religious class, promotion of a further widening of the upper and lower classes, health care only for those who can afford it or are in political jobs – ignoring those unlucky enough to contract a devastating disease, etc..
I asked Dr. Joe about the musical arrangement:
“As you can hear, it is a very sectional piece of music, each with its own instrumentation and musical attributes. Here are a few things: the verses are in alternating measures of 3 and 2 giving an unbalanced feeling. The bass line is descends like the ground bass of baroque laments. However, each note is chromatic and ends up a perfect 5th form the first note.
“The melody (vocal) ascends in part, by half-steps. I also used harpsichord and viola da gamba (and sometimes flute) all baroque-period instruments for some of the verses. One verse uses a calliope sound to emphasize the macabre to the lyrics. This is followed by medieval flute, tabor and symphony (common street instruments in the 12th-14th centuries) for the children’s dance.
“[The section termed] Vultures has a standard rock ensemble (guitars, bass, drums). The melody is harmonized at the perfect 4th, while the 2nd guitar plays 3-note chords stacked in fourths.
“The improvisation goes nowhere with lots of repetition. The accompaniment is punctuated by ‘hits’ that get farther apart to the half-way point and then get closer together.
“At the end there is a dirge for the ‘march’. I used Locrian mode – the darkest and most unsettled of the Greek Modes. After stating the melody in all parts (bass and melody) over the drone of the pitched (single-headed) drum. After the entire Locrian melody is stated, the bass line augments (doubles the length of all notes) while the flute improvises (in rhythmic similarity to the first statement, over the top.”
Here are the lyrics to Blind Eyes Closed:
Words and music by Dr. Joseph Baldassarre copyright 2018
As the sun closed its eye on earth, denying us its rays,
The church bell chimes a heedless end to just another day
Scaffolds haunt the city green, their purpose to depose,
And even though our eyes grow blind, they might as well be closed
Lifeless lives Live day to day in stagnant shallow pools.
The jacket at the switch has been consulting with his fools
Red dukes dictate impotence, their mandates to propose,
And even though their eyes are blind, they might as well be closed.
Puppet voices shouting loud their slogans to reveal
Anthems sung from voices mute their potions cannot heal
Tiny children do their dance, no purpose to suppose
And even though our eyes are blind, they might as well be closed
Historians, philosophers warn of imminent decay
Astronomy, archaeology, open minds that light the way
But books do not support the kings, so wisdom is opposed
It is because their eyes are blind, they need to keep them closed
Music wafts from unknown rooms mourning the defeat
Going through the motions like waves of sun-bleached wheat
Banners limp in stillness with motives decomposed,
Even though we knew their eyes were blind, we chose to keep ours closed
Dr. Joe Baldassarre performs with:
The Fabulous Chancellors and The Sons of Thunder Mountain.
The newsletter for these bands is at thefabulouschancellors.com.
Contact Dr. Joe Baldassarre: firstname.lastname@example.org