Obsession in A Minor

Increasingly over the last month, every waking moment of my life, my inner soundtrack has been overtaken by the prelude to the A minor English Suite by Johann Sebastian Bach. Invariably some passage is running through my head, and because it goes in and out of A minor into E minor and G major, C major and a few other places, it has a way of fitting in with everything. But now that I have it almost completely memorized, I am in a state of torture bordering euphoria. It is impossible to describe the excitement that builds while playing it. I am partial to the key of A Minor, anyway, as if I was born into it. I favored composing in A minor and I suspect Bach did too because he comes up with more interesting conversations, although that might be said of any of his minor key efforts.

This prelude is really somewhat of a two-part invention. The right hand makes a statement and the left hand answers. It’s ongoing banter back and forth. Although I am right-handed I try to pay equal attention to my left hand because there’s just as much going on there. I think one thing that made Glenn Gould’s Bach playing sound so unique was the fact that he was left-handed. I like to think if I try to listen to both voices, maybe somewhere in my head I have room for the birds too.

This is the second of the English Suites. The first was the A Major and it has taken me forever to wade through. I still struggle with the A Major: there are parts I like, but the “Doubles” in particular I find boring and am at a loss as to how to bring life to them. I don’t generally have this problem with Bach, but I suppose even he ran out of steam every now and then. So it was with eager anticipation that I moved on to the A minor. My ultimate goal is to learn all the English Suites. Part of my lifelong project which I started over 10 years ago: to learn all the Bach keyboard music. I probably won’t accomplish it but it’s a nice thought.

The birds have been enthusiastic about this suite, and I don’t know if it’s because they’re reading my enthusiasm or if they actually like A minor better too. Here’s a budgie who was keeping time with the upbeats in part of the prelude a few days ago. I couldn’t believe my ears when I first heard this.

The best part of the four-day holiday weekend has been time to play every day. I miss this so much I am afraid to admit it to myself. But my “normal” workday schedule doesn’t allow time to play every day. Sometimes it’s hard not to sit and cry “What’s wrong with this picture?” since my normal state of being is to play music…for birds. I have to say my birds are good sports. Today was what my mother used to call “glismal.” It rained or looked like rain all day and never got bright enough inside the house to feel like doing much of anything, but the birds woke came alive when I sat down to play and they participated for most of it.

I wonder if they don’t know the music better than I do as they listen to classical music on the radio all day. I have seen the surprised look on their faces every once in a while when something comes on the radio that we’ve practiced a lot. It’s a double take experience: she’s not playing, where’s the music coming from? So they must be paying attention!

The birds were most vocal today in the Bourree as I was reading through it. Here’s a little excerpt of the Zebra Finches calling back and forth. Or maybe they’re laughing at me…

We’ll check back with the birds in a month or two or three when I might be lucky enough to have the entire A minor English Suite in my fingers, and see what they have to say about it then.

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