Saturday, January 12, 2019

Out-of-Body Experiences with Bach

Someone posed a question on Reddit wondering if anyone had "out-of-body" experiences playing Bach.
So this one time in a rehearsal space I was playing Bach's Cello Suite #1 in G Major on the marimba.

I had been rehearsing it for weeks, thinking constantly about how I felt about the piece and what it meant to me in order to put my very own emotional spin on it. I probably played it at least 20 times a day for three weeks. I started the piece for the umpteenth time that practice session... and then when I finished I came out of some weird trance or something: I had no memory of playing the piece, but I did have a... well, like a vast and empty, yet fulfilled, place inside of me. I remember knowing that I had played well, but that's it. It was a weird experience, and I'm still not sure what happened.

The best way to describe it would be from Matilda by Roald Dahl "It made me feel lovely,' Matilda said. 'For a moment or two I was flying past the stars on silver wings."

In my conversations with other Bach players this does not seem to be an uncommon experience. So I'm here because I've finally built up the courage to ask these weird questions here:

What are your out-of-body experiences with playing Bach?

What is it about Bach that facilitates these experiences in our brains? Is music math, and math music? Is there truly music in the spheres? Or is it just that repetition encourages deep meditation? Let's talk!

But mostly I want stories about 'going somewhere else' while you were playing Bach. DAE?

I thought I'd share my response here:
My question is how do you tell an out-of-body experience from an in-body experience? Bach is my "go to" when I have feelings I cannot otherwise process. My mind can follow the pathways and accept their logical (and often surprising) destinations. The process of following them helps me to feel clearer about taking whatever next step I need to in any given situation. His choices bring me satisfaction.

There are moments in Bach pieces I heard my father playing while I was growing up that bring me "right back" to a moment and a physical place in my childhood. There are pieces of Bach that generate almost a "taste" in my mouth (Cantata 78 is one). There are pieces of Bach that do the opposite of an "out of body" thing for me. They make me feel more physically grounded, more comfortable in my skin, more able to move, and more secure.

I would not say that Bach is "music of the spheres" because I believe that Bach draws upon things that are very physical. The way Bach feels under the hand, the way it feels to sing Bach, and the way his long phrases are like physical constructions make me venerate Bach for his deep humanity.

I play Bach every day. Since I play viola, I alternate between the Sonatas and Partitas and the Cello Suites. My daily routine involves the reward of playing Bach after I play my scales. And for a while (maybe a year or so) I was going through the WTC on a daily basis. These days when I have time at the keyboard I have been playing the Partitas.

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