Dave Brubeck on Upon This Rock and performing for Pope John Paul II's visit to San Francisco


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SS: One other piece that I think is intriguing because of the context of its creation is Upon This Rock, which you were commissioned to write as part of the Pope John Paul II's visit to San Francisco. What was that experience like? It was 1987 I think right?

DB: Yeah. So many thing that I've been asked to write I usually turn down. And, because I think I can't do it or it's not going to work, get somebody else. So, I turned down to do the piece for the Pope. And, they said they wanted nine minutes while the Pope came into Candlestick Park -- 72,000 people.

And, he'd take a circle in the Popemobile (laughter). And, they gave me one sentence for nine minutes. I turned it down. During the night, I either dreamt or thought, "This could be done with one sentence if I do what Bach does, and make it a chorale and fugue."

And, so I told Russell Gloyd to call them back and say I would take it, and I had in mind already from thinking about it during the night, fugues theme, the chorale theme, and once you have a main theme, you can usually move in the direction of keeping going.

Russell Gloyd: You said that you'd take it but you needed another line.

DB: Oh. I said, "Can't you give me one more line so I have a few more words?" And they said, "Well, the next words in the Bible are --

Russell Gloyd: The jaws of hell.

DB: What?

Russell Gloyd: The jaws of hell.

DB: Oh yeah, the jaws of hell cannot prevail. But, I wanted even more than that, so I'd have more words. "What is bound on earth shall be bound in heaven. What is loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven." I got permission to get that line going too.

SS: So, did you feel like it was successful as far as its reception, and the Pope, and the Popemobile while it's playing over the loudspeaker system at Candlestick? That must have been a thrill.

DB: I'll tell you, it was difficult, and you see, we were in the baseball diamond. And, the people that could afford to be out on the field must have paid a lot more for their seats. And then, there was, I think, a red carpet up to the altar, which was past the pitcher's mound out towards second base.

But, when the Pope came in, the whole infield stood up. And then, Russell conducting could not see because when they were seated, he could see where the Popemobile was. But now, all he sees are people standing right in front of him. So, he figured it's like a wave. When they stand up in the balcony, I'll know that the Popemobile is just below them.

And then, that'll be our cue for when we start certain music is we'll know where he is, and when he'll come back to go to the altar. One of the funniest things that ever happened for me was we were into part of my mass. And, there became a different sound in the stadium, and then silence.

And, I looked up, and the Pope was looking at us. So, when Russ finished conducting, he came over and sat on the piano bench with me because there was no place for him to sit. And I said, "Did the Pope bless us or something?" And he said, "Either that or he's trying to learn to conduct in 4/4." (laughter)

And you know, this movement, from being so nervous, now I've gone into hysterics, so I pretend that I dropped my music so I could crawl under the piano where nobody could see me breaking up. Because it's the wrong to get so crazy (laughter) laughing. You don't do that.

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