Saturday, March 21, 2015

Birthday Greetings to JSB

Dear Mr. Bach,

I'm writing this letter in the form of a blog post so that it can be seen everywhere in the world on the same day. That concept might seem odd and impossible from where you lived during the 17th and 18th centuries, but that is nothing compared to the number of musicians in every country of the world who spend much of their lives playing the instrumental music you wrote for Prince Leopold, the keyboard music you wrote for your children, and the choral and vocal music you wrote for your church.

Your music for solo violin and for solo cello has been in my ear since I was born. During my infancy and the chaotic years of my childhood, I became grounded by the direction of the phrases in the cello suites that my father practiced on the viola, the transcriptions of your music that my mother played on the flute, and the preludes and fugues that my brothers played on the piano. Your flute sonatas and flute obbligatos from the cantatas, passions, and masses that I played on the flute sustained me through my teenage years, and then they taught me how to play the baroque flute (the instrument you wrote them for). Your Brandenburg Concertos taught me how to play the recorder, and your obbligato arias served as a doorway for the cantatas, masses, and passions as whole works. Through those awe-inspiring works I have learned (and continue to learn) how infinite and esoteric music can be.

Your music for violin taught me (and still teaches me) how to play the violin, and your Cello Suites (which I play on the viola) teach me daily how to get more from music and how to give more through music. I never tire of playing them, and I play them daily. They have helped me to teach students of all ages and experience about the infinite possibilities contained in a single line of music. They have helped me to express my feelings in times of sorrow and in times of joy. Even though I play them by myself, they help me feel that I am communicating something. They keep me company, and they help me recall one of the greatest joys of my childhood: listening to my father play your music on the viola. Once in a while I sound a little like the way he sounded in my idealized memory's ear, and that makes me feel wonderful.

Your Preludes and Fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier are my piano teachers. The incipient pianist in me goes through them methodically, and the composer in me marvels at how you get from one point to the next. The student in me climbs carefully through the musical landscapes filled with double sharps, and the teacher in me understands why you put some of your very best music into those rugged landscapes, making the difficult journey through well worth the mental gymnastics. Hearing accomplished pianists, organists, and harpsichordists play your keyboard music brings me great joy because I can step outside and marvel at the architecture.

This year musicians all over the world are celebrating your birthday by playing your music in public places. Any city dweller reading this who does not know about Bach in the Subways should see what is happening in their city right now.

Mit herzlichen Grüßen aus Charleston, Illinois,

Elaine Fine

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