THE OTHER DAY I had an epiphany: it’s probably not a bad idea to address my intentions with Moose Notes just so there isn’t any ambiguity.
This isn’t a project website. I’m not a Johann Sebastian Bach biographer, nor am I on a mission to master his extensive piano repertoire in 365 days or else. And I am hardly a piano savant, here to bestow upon you my masterly knowledge of contrapuntal playing.
What I am is captivated (keyword: captive) — a willing and gracious prisoner of something so sudden and unexpected that my lungs feel as if they’ve been taken hostage and Bach’s ghost is now breathing for me. As goofy as that sounds, the significance of what this discovery of his music has done to my life is that palpable.
It was only a month and a few weeks ago that I had even considered listening to Bach. His music bored me so completely with its soulless precision — as my immediate reaction went, when someone played a Best of Bach CD in the bookstore where I was working 15 years ago and I suddenly felt as if I needed a nap — that I never gave him another listen.
So how, then, did that ancient German guy in the white wig come to woo my heart and needle himself into my lonesome little life in the woods, you ask? It was really rather clever: he bypassed my ear canals and went straight for the eyeballs.
One day, not too long after my piano came home, I was browsing the Piano World forum when I saw a discussion thread on something called Bach’s trills. I stifled a yawn and, not seeing anything else that interested me, clicked through to the discussion — and right there in the opening post was the musical score for Bach’s second invention. I had no clue what a trill was, no interest in Bach, and no idea what was meant by an invention.
This is what I mean by unexpected. It’s like when you turn a corner in a large store and see a sign for men’s undergarments, when you’re really looking for the shoe department, but you follow the sign and end up in the dressing rooms and suddenly naked men are everywhere.
Go ahead, mom. Raise that left eyebrow nice and high while the other one stays put.
Anyway, this is really how it happened. When I saw the rise and fall of those intertwined notes, I was gobsmacked. There I was, piano uneducated, barely able to read music, and not at all interested in this Johann person, and yet I was riveted to my seat and couldn’t do much more than stare while I pondered what the heck had just happened to me. I quietly browsed the piano forums in the months leading up to the purchase of my piano and had encountered a lot of musical scores. But one nimbly glance at Bach and it was like my synapses were launching fireballs at me.
There was just something exciting in those notes. So I printed out a copy of the music, opened the fallboard on my piano, and chicken pecked my way through the first couple of measures with my right hand. And it wasn’t terrible. In fact, the sound my out-of-tune piano produced was appropriate for Baroque: kind of tinny and hallow. But what really got me was hearing Bach only on one instrument and at a pace so slow there was time to sip a cup of tea between each note.
And this was how I came to know Bach.
Here’s what Rosalyn Tureck wrote about learning to understand Bach, in a 1947 issue of The Etude:
If anyone says that Bach is dry, mathematical, or dull, you may be sure that the person giving the opinion has never really heard Bach. He may have listened to Bach’s music; he may even have tried to play it — but he has not truly heard it.
One rainy morning, I sat down at my crusty, old piano and sounded out a handful of notes that had been assembled and written down over two centuries ago, and everything changed for me. I can now say I have truly heard Bach, although I can’t quite put into words just yet how this has affected me.
And that right there is what I intend to unearth on this website, one odd little note and essay at a time.
AS OF TODAY I’m posting new essays and various other notes every Sunday morning.
Originally my intention was to post new content every other week or maybe even just once a month, but certainly not every day. It has become clear to me, though, that I have so much to share about piano and Bach that I would welcome the accountability of a weekly schedule.
For years I enjoyed Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz radio show that aired every Sunday morning when I was living in Ashland, Oregon. Moose and piano jazz: two very different animals, but both focused on piano and both airing on Sundays.
And on that note, I’ll see you next Sunday, folks.