I was six years old when I began taking organ lessons and thirteen when I quit. My swan song was performing Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Minor on the high school organ, a triumph that was recorded on a record I still have. When I switched schools in 9thgrade, I had the good fortune to land in one that had just built a 2,000 pipe organ and so I continued to play Bach for the next four years.
It’s not easy to house a pipe organ in your home, so I switched to playing Bach on piano. Especially in the last ten years or so. The French Suites, the English Suites, the Two-Part Inventions, the Goldberg Variations. Recently I dove into the Preludes and Fugues, 24 of them in one book and another 24 in another. That will keep me busy!
Each piece offers so much: a callisthenic work-out for the fingers, a re-firing of the analytic mind, a tour through the 12-keys of the Western canon and a balm for the heart and soul. Each day is a re-affirmation of how far the human mind can reach, who deep human emotion can go, how wide the imagination can travel. Each day I marvel at this man who wrote so many notes—probably a few million—and each and every one in its proper place. I could spent a few hours composing a simple arrangement for the 4thor 8thgraders and here is this man, with quill pen and paper, creating music of extraordinary complexity day after day after day. It simply never fails to astonish and astound, at once making me inspired by the possibilities of the human mind, ear, body and heart and abashed at how little I have accomplished.
And so on March 21st, Bach would have been 336 years old. And he is! Because as long as his music is played, he is very much alive and still with us. Preparing for the return of my grandchildren ( a mere two weeks since they last came to visit from Oregon!), I missed the occasion, but yesterday I made up a little game, teaching them how to properly sit and listen to music at a classical music concert and how to applaud politely at the end. And then I played Prelude No. I in Volume II of Preludes and Fugues and they listened in rapt silence. And their applause at the end was sincere. At 5 and 9 years old, with no formal training, they could feel the beauty and energy of the piece.
And so Bach was re-born yet again in the minds and hearts of a new generation, a perfect birthday present for him. Happy belated birthday to Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach!