Bruce Adolphe and Off the Hook

May 21, 2012 | Off the Hook Arts

It’s the inaugural blog and I’ve decided to dedicate it to an honored colleague and friend, Bruce Adolphe. Bruce is the binding component for this new festival that we’re collaboratively trying to get off the ground — and believe me, he’s just the validating force you want behind you when you start an endeavor like this. I still remember the first time we met, at music festivals in Vail, CO and then again in Music From Angel Fire, NW, Bruce’s engaging spirit, humor and intelligence exuded infectious enthusiasm — he’s a charming and wonderful host at any event!

The whole purpose behind Off the Hook is to bring our community closer to an understanding of the process of music making and the value of music as an educational tool. Bruce has promoted these goals for the past few decades! way ahead of me and my small contributions to children’s music education.  One of Bruce’s main projects, The Learning Maestros provides tools to inspire students, teachers, and adults to explore connections among the arts, sciences, the environment, social conscience, and diverse cultures. The vast repetoire of these cleverly creative and engaging masterworks speaks volumes as to his dedication to engage new and younger audiences. From this collection of works we’ll be performing The Tiger’s Ear, Red Dogs and Pink Skies, and Self Comes to Mind during our evening concerts, July 26 – 28th.

The scope of our programming this summer pulls from Bruce’s wonderful sense of humor and playful spirit! Our family oriented, but not exclusive to a younger crowd, are our Noon Time Jam (& Peanut Butter) concerts. Daily, July 26 – 28th,  from 12:00 – 12:45, you must join us to experience and appreciate Bruce as host and narrator for his works such as Little Red Riding Hood, Farmony, Urban Scenes, City Sounds and his improvisational moments of hilarity. We’ve also snuck in one additional composer, Peter Schiekele and his The Emperor’s New Clothes with Bruce as narrator. He’ll have the audience participating and in the palm of his hand every step of the way. A must see, absolutely.

But it’s the improvisation that will amaze you most. Bruce can take a tune, a random, every day song, hide it within one of his spontaneous compositions that are crafted in the style of a historical composer. And he’s been doing it for 10 years! Amazing to believe, but true. As the Piano Puzzler, previously on NPR and now broadcast on Public Radio’s Performance Today, Bruce has captivated audiences every week. You just have to try one of these gems to believe it: here’s  a collection to choose from.

While your there, try some of the others. They are so, incredibly clever and unique!

I’ve professed long enough, but if you’re interested, here’s a letter from Bruce to his fellow puzzlers. See all of you this summer and don’t forget to visit and support our Kickstarter Video Campaign!

Dear Puzzler Fans,

It is hard for me to believe that it has been 10 years of Piano Puzzlers! I would never have guessed back in 2002 that I would ever write more than just a handful of the puzzlers, but there are now about 400 of them, with more to come. Sometimes I feel as though it will be impossible for me to come up with new ones when I have so many other musical projects piling up on my desk and on my hard drive. But I somehow do manage to write more puzzlers, and I find that they bring me great pleasure.

Sometimes, the best way for me to get started writing a new puzzler is to physically surround myself with sheet music, both songs and piano literature, and flip through the pages rapidly without knowing exactly what I am looking for. Then in hits me, like when you spot an old friend on the street, someone you did not expect to see, and then you realize it is not actually that person — but the similarities are amazing. So it is with a phrase or harmonic progression by Beethoven that suddenly reminds me of a phrase in a Cole Porter song. Sometimes, I get going by setting the same tune four different ways. That makes me feel like I am working on a suite or set of variations rather than writing four unrelated pieces, and it also allows me to explore the harmonic, rhythmic, and intervallic implications of a phrase from various angles. Another inspiration for me to write new puzzlers is that I get to hang out with Fred Child.

Fred Child has become the world’s greatest piano puzzler expert. I can tell you that he gets all of them rather quickly and I can see the “aha!” moments light up his face in the studio, an aspect of the show our listeners don’t get to enjoy. When I fly to St. Paul to record the puzzlers, I always look forward to Fred’s company both on and off the air. When a contestant is puzzled or hesitant, Fred’s hints reveal the depth of his knowledge on musical subjects and also his playfulness and charm. It has been a great pleasure working with Fred for 10 years. And he looks exactly the same on radio today as he did when I first met him.

Happy Puzzling,