The power & beauty of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music consistently transcend social & musical boundaries and inspire deep appreciation and strong emotion. Yet sadly, in many countries audiences for Bach’s music, and classical music in general, continue to shrink.
In 2010 Dale Henderson began frequent performances of the Bach Cello Suites in the subways of New York City. Convinced the decline in classical audiences was largely because many people never get a chance to experience this music live and up close, he believed Bach to be the perfect ambassador for his art form. Feeling the experience was infinitely more powerful with money removed from the equation, Henderson declined donations and instead offered audiences free postcards explaining that his intentions were to sow the seeds for future generations of classical music lovers. His efforts, which he called “Bach in the Subways,” attracted appreciative attention from fans, other musicians, and the media.
In celebration of Bach’s 326th birthday on March 21, 2011 Henderson invited other musicians to join him. Two cellists responded, offering Bach to New York City subway passengers in various stations throughout the day, and the Bach in the Subways movement was born. The following year 13 musicians in New York participated, and in 2013 40 musicians in New York as well as 3 other U.S. cities and Montreal joined the cause. For Bach’s 329th in 2014 77 musicians in 8 U.S. cities as well as cities in Canada, Germany, and Taiwan offered their gift of Bach to the world.
Over the following year Bach in the Subways caught fire around the world. Henderson’s initiative sparked the work of similarly impassioned people everywhere and on Bach’s 330th birthday in 2015 thousands of musicians in 150 cities in 40 countries offered Bach’s music freely to the public in subway stations, in train stations, on moving trains, on street corners, in cafés, malls, restaurants, zoos, and concerts open to all. More Bach was played and heard in a single day than ever before in history. For 2016 Bach in the Subways was extended over multiple days to again allow musicians to participate on a weekend, and now every year for Bach’s birthday musicians around the world unite to connect countless multitudes with this incredible music.
At heart, Bach in the Subways is an invitation. It’s an invitation for musicians to connect with their audience in an unusually pure and open way. It’s an invitation to the audience, most importantly to the multitudes who would otherwise never encounter live classical music, to experience the magic of an art form which is cloistered away from the mainstream for reasons having nothing to do with the pure experience of musician and audience.