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Bach On Tap Shoes: Tiptoeing Through The 'Goldberg Variations'

Although Johann Sebastian Bach was probably no tap-dancer, he did know something about dancing. The gigues, menuets and courantes that populate his various suites are, essentially, stylized dance movements that can leap off the page in a good performance.

Any leaping in this 4-minute video premiere belongs to a real tap-dancer, Caleb Teicher, also a gifted choreographer. He improvises to Bach's Goldberg Variations, played by pianist Conrad Tao, also a composer, who just premiered his new orchestral work, Everything Must Go with the New York Philharmonic last week.

With a backdrop of stacked lumber at the Steinway Factory in New York, Teicher's stage is a nothing more than a pair of wooden pallets. In Bach's opening "Aria," Teicher taps lightly. After all, the apocryphal back story has it that Bach wrote the music to soothe the nerves of an insomniac count. As the languid melody unfolds, Teicher punctuates by scraping the toe of his tap shoe across the planks and gently caressing the wood with his sole.

When Bach's first, and fleet, variation kicks in, no one could be sleeping. Teicher slaps the pallets with lightning speed, leaping from one to the other for contrast, matching Tao, note for accelerated note. The swirl of the music finally spins him off his platform back to solid ground, to a world where creative souls dream about what else can be done with the sturdy, transformative music of Bach.

(The video comes courtesy of the New York Philharmonic.)

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Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.