In the days before records were mass-produced, people learned about popular songs through sheet music. The pop musician known as Beck (no relation to KUOW’s Dave Beck) was so intrigued by that idea that his latest album isn’t even a recording at all.
Beck’s “Song Reader” is a beautifully printed collection of individual pieces of sheet music composed by Beck. Each of the 20 songs in the project has the feel of old sheet music from the early part of the 20th century and decades prior. The music is gathered together in a binder and sold as a sheet music collection.
Beck encourages fans to purchase the songs, learn them, teach them to their friends, perform them in concerts and share their versions of “Song Reader” tunes around on social media and YouTube. That’s just what these students at a Florida music and sound engineering school have done.
If you attend the “Song Reader” concert in Seattle’s Royal Room on Saturday, January 19, you don’t have to worry that the music will sound like a 1980s “hair metal” band. Wayne Horvitz, Seattle musician and bandleader, is the co-founder of the Royal Room. When he and his partners opened the club a little over a year ago, he wanted it to be a place where musicians from all sorts of different backgrounds go together to perform. That’s one of the reasons Wayne Horvitz got into music in the first place. “Playing with different musicians who I’ve never met before, from musical scenes that I don’t know about, and discovering what younger musicians are doing keeps me inspired.” says Horvitz
“Song Reader” provides Wayne Horvitz the perfect opportunity to make new musical acquaintances. Wayne has invited players from Seattle’s classical, experimental, jazz and indie rock scenes to play Beck's newest work at the Royal Room this weekend. Wayne Horvitz, at the piano, and singer Robin Holcomb premiered the Royal Room “Song Reader” concerts in the KUOW studios this week. They performed “The Wolf Is On the Hill.” Singers Nova Devonie, Arni Adler and Robin Holcomb did a version of Beck’s “Old Shanghai” for vocal trio and ukuleles.
Among other versions of “Song Reader” that are showing up online is this version from the Portland Cello Project:
Wayne Horvitz says that by creating “Song Reader,” Beck is building community, encouraging creativity and harkening back to a lost era in American Music. “You have to think of a time when people would sell 80,000 or 100,000 copies of a song that no one had heard," Horvitz says. "People would be on their homestead in Idaho and order a new piece of music. That’s what hit music was: it was printed music. A member of the household could read the music and learn the song. This is about people being directly involved in music making instead of just people who receive music in a passive way.”