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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Bach Within

It was Europe in the year 286, and times were tough all over: illegal immigration by scruffy looking people with bad manners, rampant inflation, religious conflicts, and plagues. As the saying goes, the more things change.... So, to fix things the Roman Emperor Diocletian literally fixed things. He thus righted the economic ship of state by fixing wages and prices, and topped if off by fixing nearly everyone's career. So if your dad was a sheep herder or brick layer, that's what you'd be later on in life. And if you didn't like it, you were executed.

Well, Diocletian's master plan didn't work, and the Roman Empire fell anyway. But it did produce a medieval mind-set that saw stability in knowing your own place. It was a deal that was hardly inspiring to the upwardly mobile. Yet when dealt with lemons you might as well make lemonade, and perchance in every few generations would be someone in the lemonade guild who could stir the supreme refreshment.

And so it was with not only cobbling shoes but cobbling music as well, as in olden times the arts were less a diversion than a trade. And as with any avocation, every so often you would produce a master cobbler. It does get you thinking about the natural frequency of genius in small populations of folks who are straight jacketed for generations into career tracks and the invariable one track mind.

That's the Bach family for you. For over two hundred years music was their craft, and music was handed down from generation to generation not like an heirloom, but like a craft that needed to be mastered in order to pay the bills. And genius came naturally, and as with every odd generation of craftspeople, sometimes the genius was supreme. But it was all blue collar stuff, no Juilliard training here. Just complete an apprenticeship like a junior plumber, and writing fugues become as natural as installing storm drains.

J. S. Bach with score for Cantata #112, 'The Lemonade Cantata'

So what is the lesson? Artistry is like plumbing. Keep your aspirations practical, and music will pay the bills, and every now and then will pay off in artistic genius as well as a great glass of lemonade.

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