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.


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.



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