Learning Bach

As a part of the 30-day phone detoxing that I underwent last month, I typed a list of activities I enjoyed, a list to aid me as I gained more time as a result of using my phone less. What things might I do with that extra time? One of the first things I listed was play piano.

While I was in Lithuania for two weeks in May, most mornings I listened to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Having listened to Bach regularly throughout my life, I typically listened to his Brandenburg Concertos. But this solo piano music eased me into the day as I prepared my oatmeal and French-press coffee in my cool and quiet one-bedroom faculty apartment. I would savor my breakfast, allowing the piano’s intricacies to drift through my morning.

I was already able to play the first piece, perhaps the most famous, the Prelude in C Major. (I had downloaded a free PDF online some time ago and learned it.) Some pieces were (and are) astounding to me in terms of their speed and technical requirements.

Two weeks ago, my copy of the Complete Well-Tempered Clavier arrived. All told, there are 96 pieces, a prelude and fugue for each key, major and minor. Without entirely intending to, I now owned something for my bucket list. No matter how many hours (and years) it takes, I want to learn all 96 pieces, even if I have to play some of them at a slower tempo.

A major consequence of my decreased phone usage (as well as my tablet and computer) is that rather than fritter time away on those devices when I’m not certain what to do in a certain pocket of time, I am increasingly drawn to play piano. I switch on my Korg SV-1, slip on my headphones, and play away. I feel such joy and delight, and after I play the last note, those feelings linger as though I have a sustain pedal for my emotions. I’ve never felt that after puttering on my phone for half an hour.

One recent evening before I took my son to his martial arts’ class, I worked on Fugue No. 1 in C Major for 45 minutes. Just the first four bars. One hand at a time, starting slowly, matching the correct fingerings. By the time I took my son, I could play the opening four measures with both hands. The entire piece is 27 measures. But I’m in no hurry. There’s no rush. I have the remainder of my lifetime to keep working on this book.

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