Abandon/Restraint

Bach gives us a turning point at midlife with variation 16, exactly midway through the Goldberg Variations. He wouldn’t have used this term, but it’s a yin yang moment as well. Work and play. Alone and in community. Sleeping and waking. Two things seemingly contrary, but nevertheless inter-dependent for a fully satisfying life.  Wisdom at midlife embraces the “both/and” mindset that finds joy in quiet and chaos. Life’s richness is fed by a maturity which recognizes the need for balance.

Goldberg Variations, 16 (Abandon/Restraint)

Runs and trills and loud chords…all played with a sense of abandon in the first 16 bars.  Ah, but discipline wins out and the second 16 bars feel restrained, careful, polite.

No need to choose.  There is time for both abandon and restraint in any life well-lived, as we’re reminded in Ecclesiastes: (and take note, my friends, this reading is in my funeral plan, along with a dozen or so of my favorite hymns)

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

We might recoil at making room for times to hate and to make war, but there is a place for hating those things that work against love –  abuse, lies, selfishness, addiction. Not hate for the person, but for the falseness which can take hold of someone’s life.  And war…hard to justify a need for war, except the kind of war that troublemakers have to wage before they are recognized as peacemakers.

Peace (and war!),
Sonya

A reminder: This Sunday, May 7 at 4:00: a performance by pianist Sophia Vastek to benefit Bethania Kids, a ministry which supports orphans in India. Learn more and rsvp

Also, save the date Thursday evening, June 22: Sophia and I have put together another program for two-pianos, raising money this time for Samaritan Ministries. More information and a chance to rsvp later.


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.

Introspection

Bach shifts to G minor for the first time in Goldberg’s 15th variation, after 14 previous variations in sunny G major.  A minor key does not automatically mean “now we’re sad” in music, but there’s no doubt that Bach has moved from the external, wide-armed optimism of what came before to withdrawn introspection in this variation.

Goldberg Variations, 15 (Introspective)

It is composed as a canon at the fifth, that most open of intervals, confusing our ear with an inconclusiveness that begs to be filled in with an orienting major or minor third.  There is an openness between this variation’s imitative musical lines which invites introspective self-reflection.

Glenn Gould, the great Canadian pianist whose intimacy with The Goldberg Variations gives authority to anything he has said about them, regarded this particular variation as “the most severe and rigorous and beautiful canon.  It’s a piece so moving, so anguished—and so uplifting at the same time— I’ve always thought of Variation 15 as the perfect Good Friday spell.” While we are nearly two weeks removed from Good Friday in liturgical time, we are never really very far from Good Friday in the reality of life’s suffering.

Which is why we petition God, in one of the Episcopal Church’s most beautiful prayers, said during Compline, to “shield the joyous.”  But I digress.

Look inside. What do you see? Some branches of philosophy tell us that what we see – i.e. whatever our consciousness tells us we are experiencing – is true. Indeed, that those observations are infallible, because they can’t be proven untrue! Feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, distress, embarrassment, concern…those are all easy enough to determine for ourselves. Most of the time we don’t have to look very far inside to diagnose how we’re feeling. We just know.

But look a little deeper. What about feelings of jealousy, shame, disconnection? What about those prejudices and biases lurking behind our actions and ideas? How much time do we spend observing others, gauging their emotional state by their words and gestures, judging the actions of others without doing the same for ourselves? Look inside even more deeply. Is that hypocrisy hiding out in the corner? Could smugness and self-satisfaction be covering up bits of racism or gender bias? Does conviction mask cruelty?

Ugh, spending time introspectively could get uncomfortable. As in all things, however, the truth sets us free.  Admitting hypocrisy or smugness clears the way for change. Self-deception, we might discover, cloaks some things worth uncovering, such as our ability to be kind, the potential to be generous in our assumptions, and just as important (more so even?), our worthiness to be loved.

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.

Sociability

We’re not all born with a natural ability to interact easily with others, but, as with any skill, we can practice sociability and get better at it. So first up, two opportunities to be social and do good…

May 7 at 4:00: a performance by pianist Sophia Vastek to benefit Bethania Kids, a ministry which supports orphans in India. Learn more.

Also, save the date Thursday evening, June 22: Sophia and I have put together another program for two-pianos, raising money this time for Samaritan Ministries.  More information and a chance to rsvp later.

Bach’s 14th Goldberg Variation reminds me of a busy social bee, something defined by the Urban Dictionary as similar to a social butterfly, but much more entertaining. Crossing hands, back and forth interactions, quick repartee and dramatic flourishes…not really my preferred style of sociability, but I’ve always enjoyed watching social bees at work.

 Goldberg Variations, 14 (Sociability)

In my world, one of the most wonderful ways to be social is to sing in a choir. As we interact with others we learn more about ourselves, with any luck developing greater self-awareness, as well as a better understanding of the consequences our decisions have on others.  Maybe even learning to avoid making bad decisions, like missing choir rehearsal!

There’s a kind of crowd-sourced wisdom to be gained from those social situations where we put up our antennae and listen for (usually) unspoken feedback on how we’re managing ourselves during our interactions with others. Sociability is about so much more than simply being extroverted or a proficient schmoozer…a roomful of that kind of sociability would be awfully tiring, not to mention terribly competitive!  But a roomful of people really listening to each other, reading cues about the effect you’re having on others, making decisions that contribute to a common good…that sounds pretty delightful.  A great choir could even come out of it.

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.

Tenderness

We can feel tenderness for someone in our lives, treating them with gentle care. We can also have a physical or psychological tenderness within ourselves that is quietly painful when probed. In either case our tenderness make us vulnerable to being hurt. Bach’s 13th Goldberg Variation exquisitely communicates both meanings to me.

Goldberg Variations, 13 (Tenderness)

I am reminded today, Maundy Thursday, about a posting I wrote for a church-sponsored blog in 2009. The ideas I explored then are still things I wonder about today, exposing a vulnerability I’d rather not admit to…which seems like a very good reason to be honest.

Maundy Thursday Musings (revised, first published in 2009)

I am completely devoted to National Public Radio, and have had many so-called “driveway” moments when I was unable to turn off my car radio until I finished listening to a story. One that I will never forget is a story I heard years ago about the Kent State shootings, told from the perspective of several young National Guardsmen who were there that day. As the story spun out, you felt the heat of that May day in 1970, the tension building, the heaviness of the protective gear they were wearing, the taunting of the students, and you began to understand how such an unbelievably horrifying thing could happen. In fact, you began to wonder what you would do in that same situation.

Very possibly I could have been one of the German Christians who didn’t want to see what was going on in 1930’s Germany, but would have simply focused on my family and their needs. Would I have been a silent friend? The kind of person who is worse than an outspoken enemy? I would like to think that I could not sit down to supper with someone and then betray him to a government that was going to kill him, but until I experience everything that led up to that betrayal and lived in that moment, can I really be sure?

Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos, “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you.” This is how Jesus explained to his apostles the meaning behind his washing of their feet, and the first word  in Latin gives name to this day on the liturgical calendar, Maundy Thursday.

It’s all so simple. So why is it so hard? This Holy Week commemorates four things: Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, the institution of Eucharist at the last supper, Christ’s vigil in the garden of Gethsemane, and his betrayal by Judas to the Roman soldiers. The first three of those events are reenacted throughout the Christian church today. I wonder if we don’t all live into that fourth event on a regular basis in our daily lives.

Thinking this way is the painful kind of tenderness that holds cowardice up to the light. Maybe, just maybe, if we examine our cowardice, we’ll learn to care for others with more of the other kind of tenderness that loves our neighbors as ourselves.

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.

Aloneness

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and
curl my back to loneliness.  – Maya Angelou

We read to know that we are not alone
quote credited to C.S. Lewis, from the film “Shadowlands”

Wisdom suggests that we stop and ask ourselves sometimes, are we feeling lonely or alone? In loneliness something is missing, there is pain, a need or a lack of something, an incompleteness, depression perhaps. It is the absence of light. Conversely, aloneness is the presence of light. Being comfortably alone implies an aliveness, a joy of being, a comfort with yourself in which you feel complete. What the faithful know in their hearts is that we are not alone, ever, in our aloneness.

For Maya Angelou the antidote to loneliness was music and for C.S. Lewis it was reading.  In their loneliness they each found a way to be alone.

Vivaldi Concerto – YoYo Ma and Bobby McFerrin

The aloneness expressed in this music of Vivaldi is not that of emptiness, tragedy, or even sadness, as forlorn as this music can sometimes sound. Hearing it takes me to a place of receptivity, of hunger for something indefinable, but desirable.  No loneliness in this music, written originally for two mandolins, and recorded by two musical luminaries – YoYo Ma and Bobby McFerrin.

Goldberg Variations, 12 (Aloneness)

Bach’s 12th Goldberg Variation begins and ends with a single note, but so much happens in between. The tolling single notes heard are wrapped in a gentle cocoon of two other musical lines. Another reminder perhaps that we are never really alone.

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 gifted to me on January 5, 2016.

Curiosity

We’re born curious, as every newborn demonstrates with obvious joy at each new discovery. We seem to be hard-wired for curiosity, an indication of those instinctual needs that also include such things as the fight or flight response, protecting our young, and even the instinct to feel sympathy.

Yet curiosity is also defined as an emotion, and emotions react to so many outside influences in conjunction with our temperament.  There are lots of ways to be curious, and as an emotion, curiosity can be further developed or held in check. Engineers wonder how things work, psychologists wonder how people think and interact, scholars wonder how ideas can be best expressed… The word’s Latin roots, rather than emerging from words expressing a burning need to know something, are connected to curiosus, “careful, diligent” and akin to cura, “to care.” And those are certainly ways of being that can be cultivated and encouraged in ourselves and our children.

Scottish composer James MacMillan talks in this brief YouTube video about the human impetus to be curious and the urgency we feel to encounter something new. As a composer, he wonders how he can express his creative instinct in music, and hopes that we will have an experience of new music that feeds our emotional curiosity.

The Psalms again and again urge us to seek out a new song.  He put a new song in my mouth, so says Psalm 40.  We are commanded to sing a new song in Psalms 33, 96, 98 and 149.  And a new song is offered to God in Psalm 144:9.  MacMillan’s A New Song takes the listener into a place that is at once  as ancient as the psalms and as new as the sun’s first morning rays.

As an aside, the etymology of curious shows the word’s relationship to an Anglican term for an assisting priest, a curate.  Someone who “cares” for souls presumably. If we take away curiosity in its negative forms – “morbid curiosity” and nosiness – we’re left with the idea of curiosity as a sign of caring, and we might take that more to heart in our daily lives.  Seeking out new songs in other people seems like a sure way to discover the gifts, joys, and sorrows of the community around us.

Goldberg Variations, 11 (Curiosity)

I can’t quite explain why a spirit of curiosity surfaced for me in this variation. My hands are once again entwined in ways better suited to a two manual harpsichord than a modern piano, so a spirit of cooperation is actually what is required!  When I feel the emotions of curiosity most fully, my mind is tumbling with a jumble of ideas that approach from several directions at once, and that probably comes fairly close to describing this music.

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 gifted to me on January 5, 2016.

Assertiveness

Assertiveness…it’s complicated. It’s a way of behaving that implies a comfortable level of self-confidence, but perhaps with overtones of aggressiveness?  It means standing up for yourself, demanding consideration for your right to be heard and for your opinion to matter, but might possibly cause you to cross the line into boorishness?

What sheds a positive light, for me, on the idea of being assertive is the fact that the opposite of assertiveness – to be timid, or meek, or uncertain – isn’t all that attractive . Assertiveness settles nicely into the middle ground between passivity and aggressiveness.  I read descriptions somewhere of those three personality characteristics as 1) a fear of being on the stage, 2) being on a stage and inviting others to join you, and 3) being on the stage and trying to push everyone else off. Via media wins again.

Being assertive compels us to be clear about what we need or want, communicating those things in ways that leave room for disagreement and disappointment. Asserting our right to be heard is only effective when we equally open the way for others to express their thoughts and feelings. What we’re actually claiming, when we stand up for who we are and what we believe, is that we’re equal to others. Not better. Not less.

Assertiveness acknowledges that we’re in this (whatever “this” happens to be) together, accepting responsibility and delegating, speaking and listening, conveying ideas and admitting mistakes, having enough confidence to demonstrate gratitude for the work of others, showing a respect for ourselves that inspires others to realize that we also respect them.

Goldberg Variations – 10 (Assertive)

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 gifted to me on January 5, 2016.