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December 2018

When I was 17 I left secondary school (I was in the 4th grade HAVO) - ie, without a diploma. It was not a day early for myself. Because my parents thought that it would be better for me that I would follow something of an education, I chose to study (classical) double bass at the Hilversums Muzieklyceum. For those who do not know that I started in bands as a bass guitarist (and still take that instrument regularly) may be a strange choice, but it seemed the most obvious choice at the time.

My later Kayak co-founders Pim Koopman and Max Werner also attended that music school (it should not be called a conservatory). Both had a similar high school career, and now followed vocational (classical) percussion with Pim's father, who was a percussionist with the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. I always mention 'classical' because the light music department in Hilversum still had to be invented. The fact that we were dealing with straps was at best turned a blind eye, but certainly not appreciated.

This course included all kinds of other subjects such as solfège, general music theory and ensemble playing. Once a week there was singing, in a choir band. Yes, Pim and Max also participated. I personally thought that part was only moderately interesting, until one day the late medieval song 'Pase El Agoa' was included in the repertoire. That hit, at least for me, as the proverbial musical bomb. Finally I once heard 'classical' music that really touched me. That song opened the way for me to the period of music that would later become my musical preference: Renaissance and early Baroque. The song was on an LP called Tussen Kerk en Kroeg, and the company of musicians was called Musica Reservata. Later I discovered that there are dozens of versions of it. "Pase El Agoa" was a hit.

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I recorded the song twice later: once with the group Flairck, as co-producer of the album 'De Optocht', and once on a solo CD of my own, 'The Lion's Dream', on which I tried to clarify where my musical heart was: around the 16th century. It was certainly not stylish, and firmly embedded in a kind of pop idiom, although I deliberately refrained from using 'ordinary' drums, electric guitar and piano. Nor do I have the ambition to do better than my illustrious predecessors, because that is impossible work. After all, compared to many classical composers, culminating in the person of a certain Johann Sebastian Bach, I feel like a child with his first box of blocks next to a structural engineer.

Now that I am more at home during that music period - without calling myself an expert - I know that Pase El Agoa was the tip of a huge iceberg, which is slowly thawing. But why did that song really hit me? I can try to explain that in words, something with the intriguing harmonies typical of the time (the voice, the often missing thirds), and rawness (the driving rhythm, amplified in some versions by drums), but that only explains part. It is more than musical taste or preference, it is a recognition of something you never knew you knew. An exciting kind of homesickness for a place you've never been.

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I don't believe in reincarnation, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone could prove that I walked around here in the 15th or 16th century. I described that possibility in the song Never Was (Kayak Letters from Utopia) after someone pointed me to a work by the Flemish painter Jan van Eijck, for which I could have modeled. And of course you shouldn't take this too seriously. I love history, and putting yourself in an almost 5 centuries old and yet imaginary context was interesting enough for a song.

Incidentally, I did not finish that double bass training either: I got too busy with extra-curricular activities, aka Kayak. And I am still working on that training.

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Pase el Agoa - Ton Scherpenzeel
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