thinking too much and bach quotes


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In my last session with my therapist, I mentioned that I think too much. Yesterday I met a couple of musicians at church to let them in to see the Pasi. Unfortunately I got drawn into a conversation that left me off balance. These two men are thoroughly saturated with the bias of many American organists. I find it difficult to communicate my point of view in situations like this.

They weren’t creepy to me or anything. One of them was pressing me to hire him as a recitalist. Turning him down involved discussing why my recital series is coming to a close after two years. He seemed to have difficulty not taking it personally, but I may have been mistaken.

The energy of this conversation felt negative to me and last night I had trouble sleeping. Part of my obsessing comes from having to clarify myself as eccentric. I realized later that when I talked about music that wasn’t organ music these two guys didn’t seem to recognize much. Charlie Parker? Swingle Singers? Nope. They also didn’t seem very enthusiastic about Philip Glass. Sheesh.

There was more but that gives you an idea.

I did a lot of improvising at church today. The prelude was a 12 minute piano improvisation on two hymns: “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “Christ whose glory fills the sky,” the sequence hymn and opening hymn respectively. The choir sounded great on “Walk in the Light’ a gospel tune anthem arranged by Andre Thomas. Jen preached on the sequence hymn and talked  quite a bit about singing together. That was nice.

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I find it comforting to run across well written prose that reflects my own biases. Here’s some Updike on Bach. The speaker is standing looking out over Central Park in winter.

“Once in January I stood at Jane’s front windows looking down at the tops of a row of buttonwoods as a slanting wet snow laid crescents of white on each little round pod, while the apartment at my back over flowed with the plangent human pealing of the Swingle Singers performing Bach fugues—a record Jane had received at Christmas, I didn’t ask from whom

“The morning moment kept overflowing, on and on, Bach going crazy the way he does, never getting enough.—and I felt joy to the point of tears; my body, wrapped in a loose wool bathrobe of hers, felt stuffed inside with the spiritual woolliness of sexual contentment. At my back, just off the kitchen, she was setting up our breakfast. Cylinders of orange juice and a squatter cylinder of marmalade glowed with inner light. The healthy scent of English muffins toasting intersected the sight of the diagonal snow adhering to the buttonwood pods. The morning moment kept overflowing on and on, Bach going crazy the way he does, never getting enough.” John Updike, “The New York Girl,” The New Yorker, April 1, 1996

Yesterday, one of my organistas was playing through Bach’s lovely piece on the baptism hymn, “Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam.” We all discussing tempos regarding this piece.  As usual, my idea of tempo was slower (and also my registration a bit simpler). When we talked about slowing it down, was when I asked these two if they had ever heard of the Swingle Singers. I tried to explain the jazzy feel they put into Bach. I said that was how I heard it and try to perform that way. I think Updike’s clear and beautiful prose captures something about Bach, as does the next little excerpt from my new obsession, Lorrie Moore:

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” ‘Oh, it’s the most beautiful thing,’ she said. ‘Especially with this pianist.’ It was someone humming along with the light dirge of the Bach. Later I would own every loopy Glenn Gould recording available, but there in the car with Sarah was the first time I’d ever heard him play. The piece was like an elegant man in a casket, not yet dead. It proceeded slowly, like a careful equation, and then not: if y, if major = minor, if death equals part of life and life part of death, then what is the sum of the infinite notes of this one phrase? It asked, answered, reasked, its moody asking a refinement of reluctance or dislike. I had never head a melody quite like it.” p. 39, Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs.

Lorrie Moore is really doing it for me these days. I think she is an amazing writer. I love her prose.

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Letter: Liberals need to stop whining – Holland Sentinel

I love the way this local reactionary dubs out bland little paper: “The Left-Wing Holland Sentinel.” Cool.

5 browns


My grandson is safely back in California. That’s good. Eileen and I went to hear the 5 Browns last night.

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This was part of the Hope College Great Performance series. Five brothers and sisters who are pianists who all attended Julliard. There were five Steinways on the stage. They play like piano majors, i.e. impeccable technique. The two hour concert didn’t seem long to me even though it is longer than I myself would schedule. Eileen noted that by adding duets and solos to the full ensemble, each player played exactly the same amount on the program. That’s clever.

The non-musical aspect of this group is quite striking. The sisters are sexual abuse survivors. The abuser was their father who was the manager of the group up until recently when he was convicted of abuse and sent to prison.  The two older sisters founded a foundation to help survivors of abuse.  Their story was the subject of a 2018 documentary:  “Digging Through The Darkness.”

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Last night the three sisters played “Clair de Lune”: by Debussy in a six handed arrangement. Their seating was reminiscent of the picture on the poster above. I’ve never seen that kind of piano trio.

The rest of the program included Gerswin’s Rhapsody in Blue, First movement of Beethoven’s 5th, Stravinsky’s Firebird, all in clever 5 piano arrangements.

These are fine musicians. I admire the  courage of them as a group speaking out against sexual abuse. That can’t be easy. However, they seem to be see themselves as bringing classical music to a wider audience. I think this is a dated notion. I wonder where it came from in this instance. One of the brothers played two compositions of his own and that was encouraging. The other brother substituted Chopin’s C Minor Nocturne for the Scriabin on the program. It was stellar.  There didn’t seem to be any improvising.

Their musicianship mesmerized me, but I would have loved to have heard some of the piece Nico Muhly wrote for them. But the program was a more 20th century approach to preserving the lines between academic classical music and the rest of music. I don’t think that’s where music is at right now, but they’re all Julliard trained. What do I expect?

They had a standing ovation and played an encore. The audience loved them. I guess I did too.

Hope College is still on my shit list. But it is nice to go to such a fine concert blocks from my home.