Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Blame It on Bach


Been away from this blog for a few days now and I don’t like the feeling. But I have some pretty good excuses.

For starters, my two colleagues are halfway around the world spreading the good news of the Orff approach to harmonious living, leaving me alone at the salt mines to shoulder their schedule. Not that I’m complaining. I love getting back in touch with the kids I only pass in the hall or see in Singing Time (I officially teach every other grade, so half the school and I get a year off from each other). I love getting to teach two classical music pieces to the 7th graders, a curricular theme I created some 25 years ago, but have bequeathed to James and Sofia, who do it so well. I love being with the 3-year olds again! I like having the room stay just the way I leave it.

Everyone talks about how great it is for the three of us to share our work and make no mistake, it is great! But it’s also work to give and take, to share space and materials, to constantly collaborate to make sure our curriculums are aligned. I wouldn’t give it up for the world, but it’s refreshing to have some time as the only show in town.

So, like I said, I’m not exactly shouldering this heavy schedule, more like juggling a few more balls in the air with the extra alertness and skill it takes. But there is a weight to the sheer number of classes and today, my long-time friend and boss of sorts said, “You look like crap.” Well, we have that kind of relationship and she was right. Maybe I’m really not as young as I used to be.

But I still have some regenerative aces up my sleeves. Every spare moment in the past few days, I’ve been playing Bach’s French Suites, both on my Yamaha upright at home and Steinway grand at school. And lo and behold, I’m getting the hang of it! Bach was the first composer I played as a kid on the organ and he stayed with me unbroken throughout my childhood. So there is some ancient muscle memory going on there, some foundation that pre-disposes me to fit my fingers in the groove of his magnificent cranial neuro-circuitry manifested as sound and kinesthetic pattern. The more I play, the more I feel lifted up into the highest regions of my own neo-cortex and that’s where the regeneration show takes place. Well, not just the brain, but the brain aligned with the fingers setting off vibrations in the heart. Bach’s pyrotechnics can seem a bit distant, cold and calculated, but make no mistake, the guy knew how to work a melody and bring harmonies constantly to the tiptoe edge before swan-diving into glorious resolution.

My blogs are usually triggered by an experience, an observation, a poem or passage in a book or scene in a movie, a dream or just an interesting thought that arises from somewhere, but what can I say about Bach? Or rather, what can’t I say about Bach? The guy leaves me breathless every time I play. Like many musicians, I can come up with a passable melody with a few conventional chords and a decent rhythm, but every piece of his is filled with intricate mechanisms more elaborate than Swiss watches, both hands conversing back and forth, sometimes taking the role of three or four voices. It would be extraordinary for anyone to create one piece of music like that. He composed over ONE THOUSAND!!! That we know about. With feather quills dipped in ink with no electrical lighting at night, a full time job with the church and 20 children running around underfoot. Yeah, I know he probably didn’t change any diapers and was a different kind of father than today’s, but he did teach them music—and several became distinguished composers in their own right. The mind boggles.

Well, I’m 15 away from my thousandth blog, so take that, Mr. Big-shot Bach! Of course, my most inspired blog probably equals one measure of his music, so it’s hardly a fair comparison. But hey, we do what we can.

Back to French Suite No. 5, my current personal favorite.

No comments:

Post a Comment