It’s Bach’s birthday (well, sort of), so I celebrated by playing the Prelude in C Major, my favorite piece for warming up on the piano. (It’s also the piece that pianist James Rhodes uses to teach beginners how to play.)
The alleged bomber blew himself up last night, and I thought today that I was going to sit down and blog about violence, about how hard I am trying to cleanse my house of violence, how violence is not just guns and bombs and knives and fists, but how many kinds of touch can be violent, how words can be violent, how you can stab your salad violently. How I’m not just trying to raise “gentlemen,” I’m trying to raise gentle men, men who have a full range of emotions and expression available to them. But it’s just so hard. Even if they’re home with me all day right now, I can’t protect them. They were born into a country steeped in violence. A country where killing machines are sold in convenience stores. A country that has a longtime habit of dropping bombs on innocent children just like them. A country that sees kids their age shot to death in classrooms and won’t do a thing about it.
The only thing I feel like I can do is make my home a haven, a place where we celebrate things of beauty and rationality and love and peace. Bach’s music is one of those things. James Rhodes went through unspeakably ugly things as a kid, and he has said when he heard Bach on a cassette tape, it “acted like a force field.” When I’m playing Bach, and when I’m listening to Bach being played, the world makes sense, if only briefly. After I play a Bach piece, I feel as though somebody has scrubbed my brain with a Brillo pad.
His music is so amazingly beautiful, but Bach didn’t grow up in some idyllic setting. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner, who’s written a biography of Bach, says that previous Bach biographies have painted rosy portraits of the composer, not allowing that a mere human could create such heavenly works. But his research has turned up evidence that Bach grew up in a “thuggish world.” (Don’t we all?) Bach was able to do what all great artists do: take their pain and despair and channel it into works of such beauty and truth that they turn us away from our own despair and towards the light. Artists like Bach do us the greatest service of any true artist: they give us encouragement to keep living, to keep going.