Multi-faceted

(Join us TONIGHT if you can! Two pianos for Samaritan Ministries)


Just as the entire set of Goldberg Variations presents Bach’s multi-faceted approach to a simple bass line, Variation 23 is itself a multi-faceted, sparkly gem of virtuoso playfulness. At first hearing it might seem closer to scattered than faceted, but for me Bach is always in control of the message, and it’s a positive one.

Goldberg Variations, 23 (multi-faceted)

Have you ever noticed that you become a different person with the various people you encounter in your life?  I can be quiet and thoughtful, or silly and talkative, guarded or an open book, authoritative or accommodating.  It depends on the kind of relationship I have with someone, but all of those ways of being are authentic to me, part of my multi-faceted personality.

I found myself in the “gig economy” not so long ago.  That’s a concept with which millennials are well acquainted, though plenty of baby boomers find themselves there too. Being multi-faceted in today’s gig economy forces us to polish those facets of who and what we are.  That might be difficult, but ultimately empowering sometimes, and just might uncover creative paths we hadn’t considered before.

The gig economy gives us freedom to work when and where we want, coupled for many, however, with the insecurity of where your health insurance comes from, not to mention a next paycheck. Thinking about all the downsides of the gig economy are not today’s topic though. This variation’s glittering music makes me want to concentrate on the value of being versatile, dexterous, conversant with complexity, adroit with intricacy. I’ll continue to polish my facets to better reflect the light I see in each of you.

Peace,
Sonya


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was given to me on January 5, 2016.

 

 

 

Gratitude

The first notes of this 22nd of the Goldberg Variations take us to a place which is simple and pure.  It is a moment of radiancy, following on the heels of the more complicated feelings engendered by the previous variation, written in G minor. We are returning to the home key of G Major, and it feels wonderful. I’m reminded, with just the first few notes, to be grateful for all the small things that make up our daily lives.

Goldberg Variations, 22 (Gratitude)

We’re probably not grateful enough for all the things that are good in our lives. Sadly, we do tend to focus on what’s wrong, and take for granted too much of what’s right. Every religion and every avenue of psychological study urge us to nurture gratitude within, and the long list of reasons to do so is pretty convincing. Feeling grateful makes us more resilient, more relaxed, less envious, less self-centered, more optimistic, able to develop healthier relationships, helps us to sleep better, live longer, be more decisive and productive…the list goes on and on. A miracle cure if ever there was one.

What about being grateful, though, for those things which shake us to the core, turning our lives upside down and sending us onto paths we never expected? Should we really be grateful for those unhappy circumstances that people assure you will become the very things for which you will become most grateful, once you realize how much stronger suffering has made you? I don’t believe in being grateful for bad things. That’s the same to me as suggesting that God inflicts people with difficulties on purpose, because God knows how much can be borne by each of us. Really? Isn’t God more loving than that?

Cultivate gratitude, absolutely. But in the face of difficulties, be grateful for God-given gifts of resilience and perspective, rather than people-inflicted tribulations.

I have been more serious here than is warranted by this music, simple and lovely as it is. My favorite moment in all of the Goldberg Variations, actually. I can only be grateful for the freedom we have to explore ideas, challenge conventional wisdom, and, of course, I’m always grateful for Bach.

Peace,
Sonya

Join us! Thursday, June 22, 7:30 p.m. Sophia Vastek and Sonya Sutton, playing music for two pianos by Bernstein, Gershwin, Glass, and Reich. With special guest Joan Phalen singing songs of Bernstein and Sondheim. St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 4201 Albemarle Street, NW. [June 22 flyer] Donations gratefully accepted to benefit the work of empowering the homeless that is done by Samaritan Ministries of Greater Washington.


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was given to me on January 5, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nurturing

If ever there was a recipe for stuffy, dissonant awkwardness, then composing a canon at the interval of a seventh would be it. Yet from these very formal techniques, Bach created a work of such tenderness and melodic beauty in the Goldberg’s 21st variation that one feels held in nurturing hands. Well, I did anyway. Others may find hints of tragedy or depression in Bach’s shift to G Minor with this variation, but I was taken to a place of quiet comfort.

Goldberg Variations, 21 (Nurturing)

There is, of course, the whole “nature versus nurture” debate swirling around the ways that we raise our children, and our pets too for that matter. As adults, we look at our own problems through one lens or the other, too often finding fault in how we were nurtured (or not) as a child, but there is no way to know how much of who we are is actually inherited.

Realistically, we have no control over those things created by nature, such as our genetic make-up, and every bit of control over those things we choose to nurture. The illusion of control that we bring to so many parts of our life is no illusion when we choose to care about something.  We can, after all, nurture hurt or health, friendships or animosities, cynicism or faith. We can nurture our dreams or our resentments.  We can nurture our ideals of perfection, or – and this is a big “or” – we can nurture children and gardens.

I was recently introduced to a song from Leonard Bernstein’s brief 1951 musical/opera, Trouble in Tahiti.  (to be sung on a concert I am doing with some of my favorite people, and you are cordially invited! June 22 St. Columba’s concert flyer). The song’s text, also by Bernstein, tells of a garden – in this case a relationship between husband and wife – that isn’t being nurtured: [There is a garden]

I was standing in a garden, a garden gone to seed, choked with every kind of weed. There were twisted trees around me, all black against the sky, black, and bare, and dead, and dry. My father called, come out of this place. I wanted to go, but there was no way, no sign, no path to show me the way. Then another voice was calling, it barely could be heard. I remember every word: “There is a garden, come with me. A shining garden, come and see. There, love will teach us harmony and grace. Then love will lead us to a quiet place.”

Taking the time to nurture anything, from our talents to our spiritual health, is not easy in this world of instant gratification.  But nurturing those things we care about, and allowing ourselves to be nurtured in turn by that which calls us to a quiet place of harmony and grace, sound like a recipe for happiness.

Peace,
Sonya

Please come: Thursday, June 22, 7:30 p.m. Sophia Vastek and Sonya Sutton, playing music for two pianos by Bernstein, Gershwin, Glass, and Reich. With special guest Joan Phalen singing songs of Bernstein and Sondheim.  St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 4201 Albemarle Street, NW. [flyer] Donations gratefully accepted to benefit the work of empowering the homeless that is done by Samaritan Ministries of Greater Washington.


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was given to me on January 5, 2016.

 

Spontaneous

Here is another toccata-like section of The Goldberg Variations in which playing on the two keyboards of a harpsichord would have come in mighty handy. Translating Bach’s tumble of music to the single keyboard of a piano calls up for me a line from an old spiritual, “Ain’t got time to die” – Now, won’t you git out o’ma way! (to praise my Jesus, it continues). That what each hand seems to be saying to the other as they vie for the same real estate on the piano! The music is ebullient, impulsive, uninhibited. A great deal of planning often goes into improvisation, but this is a case of the most tightly composed music being imbued with a spontaneous quality.

Goldberg Variations, 20 (Spontaneous)

Spontaneity, like everything else it seems, is one of those qualities that is best balanced with its opposite. A life of continuous spontaneity would be chaotic without some effort to make plans. Yet, if every moment was planned out and there was no space for the spiciness that spontaneity can add, well, that would just be boring. From chocolate to setting goals, finding balance seems to always be the right answer.

But it’s scary to suddenly veer off course in a moment of spontaneity.  If you do, you just might find yourself in the land of unlikeness that W.H. Auden wrote about at the end of his his book-length poem, For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio:

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness.
You will see rare beasts and have unique experiences.
He is the Truth.
Seek him in the Kingdom of Anxiety.
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.
He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh.
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

Follow him…He is…You will…Seek him..Love him.  Auden is directive and sure and we don’t often experience that kind of clarity.  To do any of these things would require a degree of trust that probably isn’t entirely comfortable for any of us. We would have to throw off our cloak of perceived safety and open the door to spontaneity.

How to define those named places in Auden’s poetry? Land of Unlikeness, where people are not like us, but a land which might offer us eye-opening experiences? Kingdom of Anxiety, a place in which we should take more time to look for God? World of the Flesh, the world as we know it where all life’s occasions, even the most mundane, might be seen as reasons to dance for joy? Auden’s clarity raises so many questions. For Christians, of course, the answers come in Auden’s echo of The Gospel of John (14:6) – He is the way, the truth, the life.

Peace,
Sonya

Save the Date: Thursday, June 22, 7:30 p.m. Sophia Vastek and Sonya Sutton, playing music for two pianos by Bernstein, Gershwin, Glass, and Reich. With special guest Joan Phalen singing songs of Bernstein and Sondheim. A change of venue – losing the intimacy of a house concert, but gaining the space and acoustic of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 4201 Albemarle Street, NW. Donations gratefully accepted to benefit the work of empowering the homeless that is done by Samaritan Ministries of Greater Washington.


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was given to me on January 5, 2016.

Amiable

Several words came to mind for Variation 19 of Bach’s Goldberg Variations as I was playing it. Cheerful, friendly, genial, amiable. Amiable!  That’s the one. With its roots in the Latin words for love and friendship (amīcus (“friend”) and amō (“I love”)), “amiable” was clearly the best choice. It’s music which dances in 3/4 time, like a waltz, but earthier. Perhaps more like the Polish folk dance, the mazurka.

Goldberg Variations, 19 (Amiable)

I don’t know that anyone actually strives to be amiable. It’s a personal quality which suggests someone who is conflict-adverse, inoffensive, appeasing, boring, wishy-washy. On the other hand, our amiable friends are pleasant to be around, their presence helps maintain harmony within relationships, and let’s be honest, sometimes a lack of drama can be pretty wonderful.

Amiable isn’t a word that we come across very often, but for choral singers we’re immediately reminded of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ brief gem of an anthem, O how amiable, which sets words of Psalms 84 and 90. It was originally written as part of an outdoor drama, The Abinger Pageant, which was performed in 1934 to raise funds for the local parish church and included texts by E.M. Forster. Not your average church pageant!

The Abinger Pageant begins with these words: What shall we show you? History? Yes, but the history of a village lost in the woods. Do not expect great deeds and grand people here. Lords and ladies, warriors and priests will pass, but this is not their home; they will pass like the leaves in autumn but the trees remain. The cast was mostly made up of local residents in the show’s two performances, along with a variety of farm animals. It concludes with a final stage direction noting that “the arena is again occupied by the flock of sheep.”

Not a story about lords and ladies, warriors or priests, but about something earthier, like the mazurka. A story about the amiable people – and their amiable sheep – who form a dependable foundation for a harmonious society.

Peace,
Sonya

Save the Date: Thursday, June 22, 7:30 p.m. Sophia Vastek and Sonya Sutton, playing music for two pianos by Bernstein, Gershwin, Glass, and Reich. With special guest Joan Phalen singing songs of Bernstein and Sondheim. A change of venue – losing the intimacy of a house concert, but gaining the space and acoustic of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 4201 Albemarle Street, NW. Donations gratefully accepted to benefit the work of empowering the homeless that is done by Samaritan Ministries of Greater Washington.


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was given to me on January 5, 2016.

Civility

Civility…is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.     (G.W. Bush, 2001 inaugural address)

Yes, I am surprised too, to find myself quoting the second President Bush, but I know I am not alone in wishing we would more often choose civility, even though it can sometimes be a complicated choice. Is it better to ignore a lack of civility, going high when they go low? In doing so do we disconnect ourselves from conversations that could expose more common ground than we might suppose? When does protest become brave and civic-minded, instead of rude or defensive? Can perceived incivility become prophetic? How often does seeming civility actually shut down dissent? Does the civility of political correctness sometimes mask patronizing attitudes that foster “otherness?”

As I said, it’s complicated.

True civility insists that we unpack our disagreements, talking to people who look at the world in a different way from us. Protest and dissent are entirely compatible with civility, for these are things which help us express the ways that our concerns are connected to our values. A WASP-y pretense that “everything is just fine so there is nothing to discuss,” however well-mannered, does nothing to move us forward as a society. Acting with civility allows us to demonstrate our trust that people can be better than the incivility too often worn as protective armor. It proves our desire to live in community rather than chaos.

Civility is often seen as synonymous with politeness, and Bach’s 18th Goldberg Variation is very polite indeed. Though genuine civility has to be much more than simply polite, let the music’s calm and measured character remind us that just such an approach could go a long way in getting our ideas heard by those who disagree with us. And listen to the music intently, just as we might listen closely to others as a sign of our engagement with those we’d sometimes rather ignore.

Goldberg Variations, 18 (Civility)

Peace,
Sonya

Save the Date:  Thursday, June 22, 7:30 p.m.   Sophia Vastek and Sonya Sutton, playing music for two pianos by Bernstein, Gershwin, Glass, and Reich.  With special guest Joan Phalen singing songs of Bernstein and Sondheim.   A change of venue – losing the intimacy of a house concert, but gaining the space and acoustic of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 4201 Albemarle Street, NW.  Donations gratefully accepted to benefit the work of empowering the homeless that is done by Samaritan Ministries of Greater Washington.


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was given to me on January 5, 2016.

Optimism

In his book The Art of Possibility, conductor Benjamin Zander tells the story of two shoe salesmen who were sent to a developing nation to investigate the possibility of expanding their business. One sends back a message saying, SITUATION HOPELESS-NO ONE WEARS SHOES, while the other writes with a different perspective: GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY-THEY HAVE NO SHOES.

(Listen to Zander’s TED Talk if you have 20 minutes to spare. It is well worth your time.)

Optimism changes the story.  It opens doors and quells fears and creates possibilities. Psychologists write about the difference between optimism and hope, and though we often use these words interchangeably, they each make unique contributions to our well-being which should be cultivated. The Czech leader Vaclav Havel had something to say about this: Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Hope is an emotion which expresses our desire for something we want – happiness, success, world peace, freedom. It is closely bound up with our experiences of reality, but for that very reason hopes can be dashed, as the cliche says. We hope for peace and reconciliation and love because those things are right and good, but we don’t assume they will happen.

Optimism, on the other hand, prompts us to adapt to challenges, helping us believe that an answer will emerge, causing us to persist in the face of the unknown and to believe in the possibility of a positive outcome. There is something muscular about optimism – it can be practiced and strengthened in our daily lives.  It implies “doing” rather than “being.”

Once again, going to pianist Glenn Gould for wisdom, I find that he was contemptuous of today’s music, the 17th of the Goldberg Variations. He found it to be ” one of those rather skittish, slightly empty-headed collections of scales and arpeggios which Bach indulged when he wasn’t writing sober and proper things like fugues and canons.”

Goldberg Variations, 17 (Optimism)

Oh dear, I’m afraid I have to agree. There is indeed something empty-headed about this particular variation. I’m not sure now why I chose optimism as my intention for Variation 17 in January when I was planning out this series. But sometimes it does feel nonsensical to me when we engage in any kind of speculation about how things will turn out. We really can’t ever KNOW what the future holds. Less rooted in reality than hope, optimism can seem as foolish as this “collection of scales and arpeggios.”

Perhaps, however, being optimistic is akin to aging.  The alternatives of pessimism and death are neither good for our health, nor particularly attractive as personal traits!

Peace,
Sonya


I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was given to me on January 5, 2016.