23 November, 2021
In my naive undergrad years, I was flustered when my professors required me to play and sing Bach’s music. I remember my little Romantic-era-loving self making the ignorant statement to Dean Wilder (my voice teacher) waaaaay back in 1982 that I didn’t find Bach to be musically expressive. He laughed and predicted I would have a change of heart someday. I thought he was nuts. Well…I guess we all have to start somewhere.
Now, I rarely let a day pass without playing Bach on piano. When I’m traveling and cannot touch a piano, I find some Bach to listen to. He was, in my opinion, one of the greatest geniuses of all time. Playing Bach is extremely challenging; but, even amidst the struggle to make it all happen and stay in control, I find the act of moving my hands through all the layers and voicings really gets the wheels moving in my brain and tunes my ears to so many minute details. I especially enjoy the focus I can achieve when I sight-read his music, which is always an arduous task because I have to go slowly, but try to keep a steady enough pace that the phrasing comes through organically and unforced. Taking on a little Bach like a daily vitamin, keeps me musically fit and strong. I feel ready to be my best musical self when I’ve started my day with Bach, whether the tasks ahead are teaching, conducting, performing, or composing. Dean, wherever your beautiful spirit is now, I hope you know your prediction was spot on.
As I’ve met various musicians throughout my life, I like to ask about their thoughts on Bach (doesn’t everyone?); and interestingly, most of them say something similar about how good it is to dig deep into his works. Sting practices Bach on guitar every single day and I’ve heard or read the same about many bluegrass, rock, and jazz musicians. I love how Bach transcends genres in this way. His music is good medicine for all musicians. What’s your relationship with the music of Bach? Share your story in the comment box below.
Click the link below for a lovely brief (3 mins) interview with the prodigious and prolific Jussen Brothers (piano duo) about their Bach album release two years ago (one of my favorites). Enjoy – and then go treat yourself to some Bach!