Playfulness

Goldberg Variations, 27 (Playfulness)

Buoyancy is the word that first came to mind for this variation, but that’s not a word I could easily use in the context of these posts. Though the music itself made me feel buoyant as I played it, that’s hardly a personal quality to develop. “Buoyant” is a term usually associated with science and Archimedes, as swimming, jumping on a trampoline, or seeing astronauts in space reminds us.

Even scientifically then, buoyancy implies a lightness of being and a sense of playfulness. The word’s second meaning now comes into better focus – that quality of buoyancy which describes someone as cheerful and optimistic.

Musically, Variation 27 is a game of Follow the Leader.  Bach composed it as a canon at the ninth, one note more than an octave, which almost has one part saying, “follow me,” and the other responding, “I can go even higher than you!” It’s all in good fun, having temporarily escaped from the serious bass line’s weight.

When we are playful, we are lighter.  We’ve let go of routine and effort and a need to win.  If we have to win, we aren’t really being playful, are we? Moments of playfulness keep us from taking ourselves, or anything else, too seriously. We are briefly unmoored from responsibility, importance, from a need to control. We risk making a fool of ourselves, of course, but in taking a risk like that we might just find ourselves floating away from those people and problems that threaten to drown us.

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.

Perspective

Staying focused on important things amid the chaos that too often surrounds us is hard for a lot of people. As I practiced this 26th Goldberg Variation it was nearly impossible to keep my mind on the stately slower moving notes – quarter, quarter…eighth, quarter, quarter…eighth, quarter, quarter.  Because swirling all around those notes is a cloud of 16th notes that never stops.  Technically, those faster notes are more difficult, but musically, well, they are just not that important.

Goldberg Variations, 26 (Perspective)

I’m told that it is in fact impossible to multi-task.  Our brains might shift instantaneously from one task to another, but we can’t actually do two things at once. Considering the complexities of playing an instrument, cooking a meal, or raising small children, I think most of us have a hard time believing that, but I won’t argue with science, which has studies to prove this is so.

What seems clear is that at any given instant, one thing is more important than another and knowing for yourself what that thing is makes a difference in how you manage your time and stress levels, contributing to a sense of being grounded – that feeling of connection with the reality of who and where you are. Calibrating your perspectives to those realities can only help you achieve a better balance among all the things that are competing for your attention.

Your perspective on what’s important is not my perspective, but that’s what makes the world all the more interesting.  We each bring our unique points of view to the table, and in that context even the swirling notes can have meaning.

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.

 

Listening

The “black pearl” is how famed harpsichordist Wanda Landowska described the 25th part of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.  If we take away our culture’s equation of dark=bad, we might see instead that black absorbs light, just as white reflects it, and find that we are invited into the black pearl’s lustrous, iridescent orb with this music.

Goldberg Variations, 25 (Listening)

The preacher last Sunday in the church where I was playing told of a friend who had recently become Dean of a law school in the upper midwest, in one of many cities that has experienced too many shootings of young African-American men. This Dean soon realized that there was no mechanism for teaching listening skills to his school’s lawyers-in-the-making, and he began a program of partnering his students with city high school students which required the law students to really listen and work to understand what these young African-Americans were saying about their lives.

I have to believe that once people really listen to each other the only result possible is a deeper understanding of the other’s way of thinking and interpreting the world around them. Surely then there is an appreciation, rather than a fear, of what makes us different. Preconceptions block our ability to listen. Black=bad? Setting aside those preconceptions takes work, sometimes uncomfortable work that might lead us to question many things we have been taught to think. (more on that topic: Invisibilia podcast, implicit bias)

Variation 25 is the longest of all the Goldberg Variations and the third and final time Bach writes in G Minor.  Its adagio tempo and minor key create, perversely, the work’s emotional high point, in the opinion of some, including me. Minor does not have to mean sad – let go of another preconception! A slow tempo certainly doesn’t imply a lack of energy.  Quite the opposite. In this music I imagine someone leaning forward, drinking in the nuances of my story and emotions. Someone who is really listening.

The music reaches introspectively inward and passionately outward at the same time. It is slow and incredibly complicated with ornamentation and chromaticism. It reminds me to take time to understand the complications of another’s thinking. We listen with much more than just our ears, however.  We absorb the light of another person when we listen also with our hearts.

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.

Graceful

Because Grace makes beauty out of ugly things. Grace finds beauty in everything. Grace finds goodness in everything.

Words from a song, unsurprisingly titled Grace, recorded by the rock band U2 in 2000.

To be graceful implies an organic shape that demonstrates an ease of movement. The slender branches of a weeping willow or the willowy limbs of a ballerina both move with a flexibility that we would call graceful. But those U2 lyrics above point to a way of being that we might describe as “full of grace.” Think of those who you see as grace-filled, and surely they are people who have an ability to find beauty in everything. They are the people who are most truthfully described as beautiful.

Goldberg Variations, 24 (Graceful)

What fills you up? Better to be full of good things, like joy and gratitude and hope and mindfulness – i.e. the intention of being present to the people and places and experiences in each moment of our days. I want to avoid filling up with things that make me fearful or scornful or deceitful. Do you agree that we probably have a better chance to be changed, and to become agents of change, when we are cheerful, faithful, and merciful, than when we are boastful, distrustful, or resentful?

Best then to avoid filling up on the junk food of fretfulness, reproachfulness, or doubtfulness. Healthy living requires us to be fruitful, purposeful, and peaceful. That is where our saving grace will be found. That’s when we’ll feel most graceful.

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.

Multi-faceted

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.