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Peter Schickele leaves behind his alter-ego of P.D.Q. Bach and gets on with the serious business of making music. 

Serious, but not Stuffy

Despite being a serious composer, Peter Schickele may always be remembered as the creator of the imaginary P.D.Q. Bach, 21st child of Johann Sebastian Bach, "the last and by far the least" of Bach's enormous brood. Schickele wrote "The Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach" a howlingly funny satire about classical music. However, Schickele didn't stop with a fictitious account of the life of one of music's greatest failures; he proceeded to compose ridiculous music that might have been written by this "pimple on the face of music."

P.D.Q. Bach has treated Schickele well — the execrable music supposedly discovered by Schickele has garnered four consecutive Grammy awards for Best Comedy Album and has made the satirist a favorite of audiences yearning (or yawning) for a breath of fresh air in concert halls.

With P.D.Q. Bach, Schickele gave audiences permission to laugh at a self-important art form. Unfortunately for Schickele, the popularity of this musical cartoon character overshadowed his vast compositional output, and sometime around 1993, he shelved the P.D.Q. Bach persona.

So when Schickele appears at the University of Richmond Modlin Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Jan. 12, he will perform as both pianist and conductor — but not as P.D.Q. Bach. Schickele can be expected to offer some of his piano miniatures — wry, sparkling songs that draw inspiration from his own life. He will also give marching orders to the University of Richmond's University Orchestra and Schola Cantorum.

Schickele's compositional output has been amazingly and amusingly wide-ranging. He composed the scores for several feature films, including "Silent Running," an eco-conscious, science-fiction fantasy. Throughout his career, he has made music intended for young audiences, notably, the music for the video version of Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are," and a version of Prokofiev's "Peter and Wolf," retitled "Sneaky Pete and the Wolf."

Not surprisingly, the merry, effervescent musician has contributed incidental music for "Sesame Street." In a career path that seems joyously oblivious to musical labels, Schickele also co-composed and performed music for the raunchy Broadway musical "Oh, Calcutta," collaborated with Joan Baez, among other rock 'n' roll luminaries, and has had his symphony performed by both the New York Philharmonic and the National Symphony.

Schickele furiously digs for and unearths deep connections among seemingly disparate musical genres. His weekly radio program, "Schickele Mix," (which is not available in Richmond) serves up a smorgasbord of musical samplings — Beatles tunes, jazz charts, a shot of American folk music, medieval chant — all in service of demonstrating the common threads coursing through all human music. He rejects notions of "high art" and "low art," preferring to mentally collect bits and pieces of whatever music strikes him as valuable, or quirky, or moving. Like a roaming bee, drunk on nectar, pollinating every exotic wild flower in the meadow, he listens to and learns music from all over the globe, in every language, from every culture. His astonishing record collection boasts 4,000 albums.

Although he is on a hiatus from appearing as the unmentionable one, Schickele occasionally still presents "new" discoveries of work by his alter ego, and it is entirely possible that he will offer favorite works by the absurd, but always fascinating P.D.Q. Bach during his upcoming Richmond
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