Early this morning, I was driving to 7:30 Mass at a church that was a bit further afield than usual, so I put the car radio on and caught the cadence of an organ prelude. I immediately thought it was J.S. Bach, although I did then think, perhaps it would be prudent to withhold a conclusion until I had more than two measures to go on.
As soon as the fugue began, though, I knew it was Bach – and one of the preludes and fugues I had learned while I was at Smith. (For the other organ geeks out there, it was a Prelude and Fugue in G major, although I am not sure of the BWV.) Next, they spoke about how composers often borrowed themes from their own work or others’ work and played a choral movement that used the fugue theme, transformed into a minor key. (Maybe the US court system needs to hear a bit more about this long-time compositional practice.)
It was odd for me to think about my playing Bach on the organ. There is even a bit of wonder that I ever could. It’s been almost ten years since I have played on even a limited basis and even longer since I played such complex repertoire. Long-standing tendon problems in my right elbow led to years of physical therapy and finally surgery which we had hoped would fix the problem. However, I developed calcifications that caused the symptoms to recur, so I could only play for short amounts of time, not nearly enough to practice Bach fugues.
I had been still doing some accompanying for the choirs at our church, but almost ten years ago, we lost our church home, and I have barely so much as touched an organ since.
This spring and summer will be the tenth anniversary of a string of really painful life events, the aftermath of each still present in my life and the life of my loved ones in different ways. I have the feeling that these upcoming tenth anniversaries will be as complicated as a Bach fugue, but not nearly so organized.