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Archive for Classical Music

Ten Things that J. S. Bach and I Have in Common

It can be very encouraging to discover that you and someone you greatly admire have something in common. For example, let’s say you really like Zachary Quinto’s depiction of Mr. Spock in the new Star Trek movies. But then you learn that, like you, Zachary was born in Pittsburgh, PA. Now you feel a closeness to him that transcends his acting roles. If you’re ever having lunch with Zachary, you can talk about the Three Rivers Arts Festival, Primanti Brothers, and the Steelers, in addition to Spock’s relationship with Uhura.

I was doing some research on J. S. Bach, and I found out that he and I have not just one, but ten things in common. So if heaven has cafes, Johann and I should have enough to talk about over lunch.

1. To start with the most obvious: We are both composers. Of course, this is like saying that Kobe Bryant and I can both dribble a basketball. If Johann asked what I’ve written, I would point him to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEyWU2Crfbc, which has almost 10,000 views. He in turn would tell me that I might have heard of a few of his compositions—like Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, The Well Tempered Clavier, The Brandenburg Concertos, and Mass in B Minor. He would also point me to a few of his pieces on YouTube, including https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ho9rZjlsyYY, which has over 8 million views. From then on I’d be more careful when answering questions like “what have you written?”

2. Our last names both start with “ba.” In fact, the third letters in our names also aren’t too far apart alphabetically, so if you file your CDs by composers’ last names, my 20 CDs (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/185-3007671-1736048?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Tom+Bajoras) might end up next to Bach’s 7382 CDs (http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&page=1&rh=n%3A5174%2Cp_32%3AJohann%20Sebastian%20Bach)

3. Our music isn’t/wasn’t famous during our lifetimes. Bach’s music, like mine,  was often considered old-fashioned and irrelevant. About 80 years after Bach’s death, Mendelssohn rediscovered and popularized Bach’s music. Maybe there is some kid reading this who, years from now, will promote my portfolio to the rest of the world.

4. Neither of us has any known living descendants. In Bach’s case it wasn’t for lack of trying. He had 20 children. I was never into the whole procreation thing. I guess I’m just too busy writing music. Although 1128 of Bach’s compositions have survived, it is estimated that he wrote over 11,000 pieces, so apparently he didn’t have any trouble finding time for writing music in addition to having children.

5. Neither of us ever met Handel. For me that’s probably excusable, since Handel died 201 years before I was born. But for Bach it’s more surprising, since he was born in the same year as Handel. In fact, on a number of occasions Bach tried to arrange for a meeting, but it never worked out. Ironically, the same eye surgeon, John Taylor (not Duran Duran’s bass player), operated unsuccessfully on both Handel and Bach and was most likely responsible for both their deaths.

6. We both worked as church organists and sometimes got into trouble for our musical choices. In 1705 Bach returned to work as an organist in Arnstadt after traveling a bit and soaking up some cool new musical ideas that he was looking forward to putting into practice. But his congregation found Bach’s new ideas confusing, which caused the church council to reprimand him. Similarly, when I was in high school—although I still can’t grasp why this was objectionable—my supervisor disagreed on whether a Pink Floyd song was a suitable prelude to the Catholic mass.

7. We both were avid coffee drinkers. Bach even wrote an opera, “Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht” (“Be still, stop chattering”), about coffee. It was first performed in a coffeehouse. I’ve had a number of pieces premiered in coffeehouses too, although I haven’t yet written specifically on the subject of coffee.

8. We both enjoyed taking long walks. Bach walked 29 miles to go hear organist Dietrich Buxtehude play. I’ve hiked an 8-hour stretch of the Na Pali coast in Kauai, and I’ve driven 29 miles in LA traffic, which Bach never had to contend with, to go hear prog rock bands with names similar to “Buxtehude.”

9. Neither of us had a degree in music. Bach didn’t have a college degree, but he received private music instruction from his parents (who both died when Bach was only 10) and from his older brother. He was trained in organ, singing, violin, and composition. Likewise, I do not have a degree in music, and all my training has been through private lessons. I wish I could say that I studied as much as Bach did when I was a kid, but I was too busy watching Star Trek reruns. By the way, I think Leonard Nimoy’s version of Mr. Spock is better than Zachary Quinto’s.

10. Neither of us have ever had a Snapchat account. I don’t even know what Snapchat is. Neither did Bach. Surely this is not a coincidence!