Bending the Knee to Bach
Yes, I’m a few days late talking about Johann Sebastian Bach, whose 330th birthday was March 21, 2015.
My pianist friend Cheryl Saborsky invited me to go with her to a concert last night. She performed a magical solo recital two weekends ago, and one of her page turners for her recital, also a fine pianist, was performing in last night’s chamber-music concert with several other musicians. Cheryl wanted to be there to hear the concert and support him. The program was anything but Bach, featuring little known music by Beethoven, Satie and others, plus a commissioned work by a local composer whose musings poured forth reminiscent strains of Olivier Messiaen. All were exquisitely performed.
I was eager to go, because Cheryl is my “musical twin sister” and we don’t get to visit enough because we are both so busy tending to the work of music making. She’s one of the most musical people I know. We met about seven years ago at her church job, where I was asked by her choir director to play the dulcimer in Malcolm Dalglish’s “Star in the East.” On that first meeting, Cheryl and I rocked during rehearsal messing around with the spiritual “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” which we re-created during the church service the next day. I thought, ‘Now here is someone I’d like to play with again!’ And we have: I’ve been back to her church several times since, and played some recorder-harpsichord duets during a party at her house. Cheryl and I are on a par when it comes to extemporization; I don’t know anyone else who extemporizes with the same kind of joy and abandon, and we seem to think the same way about retooling melodies!
During the long drive to the concert venue, Cheryl recalled a few years ago when I played for her the Allemande in Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major (BWV1007). She said that when she heard it, she knew I was an artist because of how I handled the phrasing, sensitively stretching the length of an occasional note, hammering Baroque trills, etc.; the interpretation, despite a cello work being played on the dulcimer, was in her mind authentic. (I’d also written the Allemande on three staves to render it “polyphonic” in performance, matching a theory I have held for some time about all the Cello Suites.)
I thought about what Cheryl said, and about Bach’s music, during the concert. I’ve been wanting to learn the entire Cello Suite, but other projects have been in the way. (Also, remember all the time we had when we didn’t have email?!) Hmmm, it seems time to assemble an all-Bach concert–with Cheryl?! So I’ve decided to finish learning that Suite. I also have an orchestral reduction of my favorite Bach work of all: the A minor Violin Concerto. Some years ago, I played the first movement on the dulcimer. It’s time to bring that back and learn the remaining two movements. Then a few shorter pieces to round things out: one on dulcimer, and two on diatonic autoharp (one is an original tune based on the first movement of Brandenburg Concerto No. 2). Sounds like a full program to me!
When I arrived home at 11:15pm last night, I pulled the concerto from my files. The Suite is already living in my computer, eagerly waiting to resound from the page. I’ll restart the Courante today and see how far I get a week from now. Chances are good I’ll probably still be working on just this movement, but that’s okay. Time is never a factor where joy is involved (except that I’m getting older, lol!).
I’ll close with these inscriptions on a mug Cheryl gave me (a very belated Christmas gift):
With the mug handle to the left:
BACH gave us God’s Word.
MOZART gave us God’s Laughter.
BEETHOVEN gave us God’s Fire.
With the mug handle to the right:
GOD gave us Music,
that we might pray without words.
Our thought for the day…
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