Bach Continued

Practicing, practicing, practicing: my hummus and pita is strangely unsatisfying (if necessary) after 6 hours of Bach. What is amazing is how IDIOTIC the “old ways” of playing something seem (and by old I mean six months ago): how incredibly self-critical you become. And the idiocy is usually inattention… and so I force myself, bit by bit, to pay attention. This is painstaking work, measure by measure, repetitive (sometimes to no apparent result)–trying to truly “pay attention.” It is weird to repeat paying attention; repetition tends to give way to tedium, and inattention. Practicing is straining towards the opposite of this natural tendency. But then, invariably, you run across another problem: mental attention translates inaccurately into muscular tension (this movement from intangible to tangible runs through piano playing, in every direction: printed score to evanescent sound, for example). Your perception of attention is misplaced; you confuse a hunched muscle for a sparking neuron.

Then you must think about something else, on top of the impossibly intricate music: you must think of your OWN BODY, you must consider it separately while the music goes on. The real goal is the “how,” in between the “whats” of you and the piano: the perfect superimposition of motion and desire. But this goal hovers in the middle, is an impossible thin “balance state;” sometimes you must think purely of desire, and sometimes purely of motion, just as sometimes you must think by turns of your right or left hands. The Parkinsonian patients in “Awakenings” cannot sustain themselves there, between total lock and manic motion, they cannot be in our in-between, normal, human state; and while I am practicing, sometimes, I feel it too, the difficulty of remaining in the middle. It is a comfortable, beautiful place, and my happiness often depends on finding it.

Then I am online, taking a break, surfing blogs, and a friend IMs… a non-musician friend. He asks me what I’m doing and I tell him; he says “I don’t like Bach.” It’s impossible really to imagine, heartbreaking. My mother, too, actually professes not to love Bach, although she has stifled this over time, seeing me play Bach again and again. There is no more nourishing music, no more varied, no more …. how can one say you don’t like it, as if it were a brand of ketchup? Sometimes we musicians need to be shocked into realizing how much people think of music as food, as something that one picks off the shelf, something used, consumed, enjoyed casually, stored in a pantry for when you need it. Some of my friends would say that that is good, that it is a healthy attitude… Obviously I can’t be reconciled to this; turning Bach out would be to revoke part of the universe.

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One Comment

  1. Nils
    Posted August 19, 2005 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I recently rented the 1978 Harvey Keitel movie Fingers. This is not a good film—it is not even enjoyable—but the second movement of the E-minor Toccata (BWV 9147) is practically a main character, and it is engagingly played by an uncredited pianist. Keitel gives go-for-broke performances in the keyboard scenes; although his Gouldesque sing-along and spastic gesticulations induce chuckles, they are also themselves strangely engaging.

    I hated the movie, but when it ended I was struck with a similar thought: how could anyone “not like Bach”? His music is transfiguration.

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