Happy Birthday, J.S. Bach!

Posted by Elizabeth Devereux

Today would be the great composer’s 327th birthday were Johann Sebastian Bach alive today.  Last year for Bach’s birthday, I posted videos of his music–some pieces in their original form, a few reinvented…

This year I’d like to write a bit more personally about what Bach’s music means to me.  In last year’s post, I wrote:

If you ask many a professional musician, especially violinists, what three composers’ music they would bring with them to a deserted island, Johann Sebastian would be among those three for almost every musician you ask.

It’s a fun game to play–a fun conversation starter with musicians you’re meeting for the first time:

What music would you bring to your desert island? 

When we musicians put ourselves in the role of Tom Hanks in Cast Away…

…our “Wilson” might be a series of melodies by different composers that we’d sing to ourselves; they would be our sanity, our company, in isolation.

Four and a half years ago I was in a car accident with one of my closest friends and her sister (my friend was driving and I was in the passenger seat).  Our car flipped off the side of the road and landed upside down.  We were extremely lucky to find that all three of us were safe and unharmed.  We were, however, stranded on the side of one of the most remote roads in all of North America–the Dempster Highway in the Canadian Arctic.  The accident itself was scary; the fear of being stranded in bear country overnight was scarier.  In those frightening moments after the accident, I found serenity and strength by imagining that I was playing Bach’s Sonata in G minor for unaccompanied violin.

I’ve never been to a deserted island, and I will likely live my entire life without experiencing that level of isolation.  I have, however, lived through a few frightening experiences–such as the Arctic accident–and will likely live through many more.

In those moments, I have felt, and will continue to feel in the future, SO LUCKY to know even a few pieces by Bach well enough to be able to “play” them in my head, or, if they’re not for violin, to be able to sing them silently in my head, as if turning on my mind’s own personal Bach songlist.  This is one of the gifts I hope to be able to pass onto my students: the gift of Johann Sebastian Bach.


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