J.S. Bach and I share a birthday (March 21). It rolls around just about this time every year. It’s the first day of Spring which is, I suppose, appropriate for me, since I detest Winter. We’re on our way to warmer weather.
And it’s appropriate for Bach, because spring is a time of new creation. Bach was a creative genius. He didn’t introduce new forms, but he took old forms and interjected new things into them. He was a master at the contrapuntal technique. He brought organized motifs into his music. He took forms and textures from Italy and France and adapted them into his own music to create something brand new.
I’m in no way claiming to be a creative genius, but I believe that Johann and I have some similar characteristics and experiences:
- Bach came from a musical family, and learned his craft from an early age. My dad is a creative spirit who is a writer, director, and music lover, all of which I have received from him.
- As a young man, Bach sang in a well-renowned choir. As a young man I had the privilege of singing in Eldon Balko’s Schola Cantorum. My parents saw to it that I went to this Saturday morning music school every week. I actually loved it, and count it as one of the formative experiences of my life.
- Bach had an adult mentor named Johan Adam Reinken. Bach loved Reinken’s music so much that one summer he walked 48 km in order to hear him play the organ. I had mentors outside of my family that taught me to play the guitar, encouraged life skills in the Boy Scouts, and affirmed my affinity for singing. Glad I never had to walk 48 km to be with them!
- When he was about 18, Bach took on a job as a servant and private violinist in the chapel of a Duke. He learned the importance of earning an honest days’ wage while perfecting his craft. As a young person I worked as a caddy, a bus boy, in a pharmacy, and in a one hour photo shop (remember those?). Those jobs taught me a number of things, including the fact that my education was important so that I didn’t have to have jobs like those for the rest of my life.
- Early in his career Bach took a leave of absence to learn from Dietrich Buxtehude. He came back to his home church and introduced some newly learned techniques, much to the chagrin of his congregation. A year-and-a-half ago I was granted a three month sabbatical. I came back and introduced some new ideas, thoughts, and creative techniques…hopefully not too much to the chagrin of my congregation.
- At one point in his life Bach had to write one cantata per month. I can’t imagine writing a cantata every month. But I suppose some people can’t imagine writing a sermon every week, either.
- Bach was a Lutheran. So am I.
J.S. Bach showed that creativity and musicianship are the result of passion, pursuit, and practice. I’d like to have more of each of them in my life. That’s what I plan to celebrate on my next birthday. And J.S. Bach will be there to remind me.
I’m curious: With which famous person/people do you share a birthday? What have you learned from them?