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.


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.









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