Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bach's Birthday

"Do you know what day it is?" my mother asked me, on the phone this evening.

"The first day of spring?" I asked.

I should've known the response wasn't that easy. Today, she informed me, is the day J.S. Bach was born. Yes, my mother's favorite composer was born on March 21st in 1685. My mom, it seems, has been a fan for just about as long.

Not really--but it's been a good 10 years since my mom started listening to Bach everywhere--in the car, on her workouts, in the house. She made endless tapes for her car stereo, and we would listen to his cantatas and arias and fugues on the way to visit aunts and uncles, on quick trips to the grocery store, on longer drives to church, shopping: everywhere. In my mother's car, Bach became the soundtrack of each outing.

Perhaps what I remember best are the Goldberg Variations, one of Bach's best known works, and one of my mother's favorites. We would listen to each variation--some fast and frantic, some slow and measured--and begin to recognize the differences between them: the subtlest nuances that only someone who really loved the music would notice. I remember sometimes wondering what was so special about these little operas and why we would listen to them everyday. But then, all of the sudden, a new variation would surprise me with its beauty and clarity, and I'd be as taken by each note much as my mother seemed to be.

Now, far from home and my mother's Bach tapes, I don't listen nearly as much to those Variations, or any of Bach's music, like I used to. But, after years of listening to him with my family in the car, I am now able to recognize those notes anywhere. It happens in the most unlikely places: bits of Bach will sneak into our dinner music or ease their way onto the car radio, and my ears will perk up. "That's Bach," I will say--no question about it. For a moment, I'm there again--in the car, listening to my mother explain the differences between the fast variations and the slow ones or the science behind the fugues. It's soothing, to hear the voice of his music again, while being far away. Bach's music, like all good music, brings me right back home.

Happy birthday to Bach!

Want to learn more about him (and maybe discover his Variations and cantatas for yourself)? Check out these couple of sites:

J.S. Bach's 'Official Homepage' gives you a bit of everything.

This Bach bio gives quite a lot of information--after you've read it, you'll be able to talk your way through most Bach-related conversations.


Update: My brother Paul also celebrates Bach's Birthday at locussolus.