At Home with J.S. Bach
The ruby slippers snuck out of the closet the other day and hinted that they wanted to return home, musically speaking. Then three scores decided to tag along, too: J.S. Bach's two- and three-part Inventions, and books I and II of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Ah, Bach. I learned my musical manners from the old master; his pieces trained my fingers, taught me to hear the musical phrase, and showed me how to see the architecture in a written score. Encouraged by my piano teacher, I combed the score for subjects and countersubjects, labeling each entry with a voice part: bass, tenor, alto, or soprano. Then, with pencil tucked behind ear, the mental exercise evolved into finger strength, a sure-fingeredness that in turn allowed me to indulge in the musicality of the (annotated) lines of counterpoint. Ear, fingers, eye. Eye, fingers, ear. The synthesis of the mental, physical and psychological is the beauty of Bach, simple enough for the beginning student to recognize and complicated enough for the trained professional to "keep at it" decades later.
The influence of "home" is unshakable, regardless of how far one journeys from it. The pianist who spends years practicing the dozens of keyboard works by Bach might seem ready-made for a solo, concert career; Bach unquestionably trains pianistic pianists. I strayed from that path and spend a majority of my time accompanying singers and dancers and playing in ensembles, but Bach was the best upbringing I could have asked for. Playing through some of my favorite preludes, fugues, and inventions--pieces in which I have lived and been molded by--reminds me of this and is, indeed, very much like walking "in total darkness from one end of my mother's house to the other without bumping into anything." We should all put on the magic slippers now and then and return home. It's the comfort of the past, yes, but also an interesting mirror on the present.