Bach To Normal

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Everyone has a story to tell about Bach. Here’s mine.

Bach brought me back after 9/11. It was Sunday, September 23, 2001, just 12 days after the terrorist attacks brought down the World Trade Center, killed thousands of people and obliterated all sense of reason and order in our city. I was in my kitchen preparing the first “normal” meal my family would eat together since the tragedy hit. I had been working round-the-clock navigating a city in chaos and filled with raw emotion.

WNYC's FM transmitter was destroyed in the attacks and we were forced out of our downtown studios, yet this was the moment when New York needed us most. All of us at WNYC were determined to rise to the occasion and to cover the devastation and the aftermath thoroughly.  We went to an all-news, all-talk format operating our newsroom from the streets and remote locations. We carried on like this for days and I didn’t quite know how we’d get through it.

Then that Sunday evening the music returned. David Garland presented the first music WNYC had aired since the 10th. It was a special called "Bach: Solace and Inspiration." It was just what I needed at the time. It was just what our city needed after days of turmoil and unrelenting stress. As the music came flowing through the radio, I was overwhelmed with feelings of relief and comfort. I was transfixed by the power of Bach’s compositions and soothed by their incredible sense of order. I knew then that our city would recover. I called my husband into the kitchen to listen with me and we stood there taking it all in until David's voice came back on the air. It was the first time after the attacks that I felt like I could exhale and that a sense of structure had returned. In that moment, Bach gave me confidence and reassured me that life would eventually get back to normal. 

Starting on March 21, WQXR will celebrate the life, the legacy and the incredible music of Johann Sebastian Bach. For ten days, WQXR will suspend regular programming and play the complete (yes, the complete) works of Bach in a festival called Bach 360°. It’s a fitting tribute for a great composer who has touched the lives of so many, so deeply. As part of the festival, WQXR will explore the allure of Bach with historians, musicians, authors and, of course, our listeners. WQXR is inviting listeners to share their stories via a special Bach Voices hotline and online. Call 347-286-1059 to record your story or visit, where you can also find a full list of festival programming including live events.   

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, WQXR played highlights from the special "Bach: Solace and Inspiration." Click here for the playlist.


More in:

Comments [9]

Joan Liebmann-Smith from New York

When my then boyfriend and I moved to Paris in the 1970s, we brought our most treasured classical and contemporary tapes with us. We spent many romantic evenings in our 14th century, 4th floor walk-up apartment on the Rue Jacob listening to one of our favorite tapes, Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. We decided to move back to New York and get married the following year, and wanted something special for our wedding march. We chose the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 (Movement 4-- Menuet). To this day, whenever we hear it played, it not only brings back memories of our wedding, but our wonderful year in Paris.

Mar. 30 2013 10:08 PM
David Wong from Basking Ridge, NJ

My introduction to Bach happened, oddly enough, many years ago when I was watching a Beatles documentary. In the documentary Paul McCartney had just watched a classical music performance involving a multitude of instruments and shared his observations with his manager. McCartney was fascinated with the harmonization of the instruments and wondered if such instruments can be incorporated into his music. It was later revealed that McCartney had watched one of Bach's Brandenburg concertos. After watching that sequence I thought to myself "If Paul McCartney found the concerto fascinating maybe there is something to it". I immediately went out to buy my first Bach Brandenburg concerto recordings and since then I've been a forever Bach enthusiast. My thanks to Paul McCartney and the producer of that Beatles documentary for jump starting my Bach passion.

Mar. 29 2013 03:06 PM
Larry Brown from Larchmont, NY

I must have been 14 or 15, the age of utter self-absorption, & I was in full stride on one of my dashes out of the house to get to waiting friends outside. The dash required passing through my family's living room, where the TV was. Without seeing what was on the screen I heard music the likes of which I'd never heard before, & though it wasn't a word I could've used at the time, the Profundity of the music, it's logic, it's Truth & Beauty from someplace deep in the Universe stopped me in my tracks & stopped time. It was as if there was no will involved: I was simply arrested & compelled to not just listen, but to absorb the sound. Any movement that would've put distance between me & the source of that music was impossible. I don't remember the program. I don't remember who was playing violin - Jascha Heifetz? The arresting, enveloping experience was the Chaconne from the d minor Partita for Solo Violin. It re-wired my brain & altered some genes in a way that put Bach forever in the center of my musical life & aesthetic sense. The Chaconne in particular stops me in my tracks to this day.

It wasn't too many years later when that re-wiring & genetic re-programming by Bach again changed my life. Having just received an acceptance to college, I was encouraged to apply for a music scholarship as a clarinetist. My prepared piece, a Concertino by Carl Maria von Weber, was a "walk in the park" since I had recently been the soloist with it & my high school band. For the frightening sight-reading part of the audition I was given the gift of the clarinet part in an arrangement of one of the Prelude & Fugues for band, & discovering-as-playing that incredible fusion of beauty & logic that makes for the Profundity of Bach made the new music fall handily under my fingers, which found their way through the music as if I'd played it dozens of times before. It could not have happened that way with the music of any other composer. That scholarship gave me a four year gift of immersion in music with musician friends that made all the difference -- even though I was never a music major!

Thank you JS . . . thank you for so much over so many years.

Mar. 24 2013 11:53 AM
al mosny from Flushing, NY

In the mid-1980's, on a drive on Cape Cod, my dialing
found the magnificent sound of JS Bach-the Goldberg
Variations played by Glen Gould.

When I returned to New York I learned more about Bach
- Cantata 106, the passions, the keyboard music and more.

Thanks to Felix Mendelsohn (sp), Claudio Arrau, Glen
Gould, and now WQXR, for keeping the music of Bach alive.

Mar. 18 2013 12:27 PM
Patrick Thompson from Seattle

Many years ago, someone gave me the the Pablo Casals performance of the cello Suites. I remember listening to them for the first time, being unable to make sense of them, there was just too much there. So I just listeed to the preludes for a whole year and slowly made my way through the rest of them over the next year. That was 46 years ago. I am still listening to them, still finding things in them I never heard before. I expect I am discovering as much about myself as I am about the music.

Mar. 17 2013 10:14 AM
Anne Van Orden from Sayreville, NJ

The first time I heard a piece by Bach - other than the Stokowski Toccata in d when I was a child - was when my piano teacher played me the famous two-part Invention in F when I was about 16. I remember thinking, "What the heck is THAT?" It was, simply, the weirdest piece of music I had ever heard, but also mesmerizing! What a breath of air after all those tedious Haydn and Mozart sonatas - something truly unearthly!
Three years later I was walking down the hallway of my music conservatory listening to a chamber orchestra rehearsing the slow movement of Brandenburg #1. When it came to the climactic moment where the violin eases in an octave above the oboe, I simply froze. Several other students ran into me, books went flying - curses, too - but I couldn't move again until the movement ended.
It was at that moment I realized Bach had taken his place at the center of my life - a fact which remains in force to this day.

Mar. 15 2013 01:20 PM
Ferdinand Gajewski from Westfield, NJ

From the Harvard Magazine, Jan.-Feb. 2000


In his "Practice and Perfection" (November-December 1999, page 35), Daniel Delgado raises anew the perennial debate over the proper vehicle for realizing Baroque harpsichord works. I could not help but recall an amusing and altogether zeitgeistlich episode from my Harvard years. In 1968, serving as resident tutor in music at Quincy House, I invited an old Juilliard classmate, Susan Halligan, to play the Goldberg Variations on the piano in the Quincy House Arts Festival. Those who attended her concert must have been flabbergasted to be presented at the door a protesting flyer, a copy of which I piously preserve to this day among my Harvard memorabilia. "I firmly believe," writes the undergraduate author, "that an artistic crime will be committed here tonight. Bach is being libelled, and I cannot commit the crime of watching this pass unnoticed." After fulminating at some length he concludes, deftly, "The Goldberg Variations remains: CLAVIERUEBUNG bestehend in einer ARIA mit verschiedenen Veraenderungen vors Clavicimbel mit 2 Manualen."

Ferdinand Gajewski, Ph.D. ’80

Westfield, N.J.

Mar. 14 2013 05:03 PM
Trudy Schwarz from Queens, NY

During the London Blitz in WW2 there were free lunchtime concerts at Albert Hall. I heard Myra Hess play "Sheep may safely graze". It was like an island of tranquility in a world of chaos. Bach is my #2 composer after Schubert, although they are VERY different.

Mar. 14 2013 04:18 PM
Stephen Kurtz

The very first time I heard a performance of a Bach Work occurred when I was 14 years old. I was on a camp trip to Tanglewood and the year was 1950. The performance that evening was Bach's Mass in B Minor performed at Tanglewood in the Shed with Koussevitsky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Robert Shaw Chorale. Of course the performance was flawless and I was mesmerized. From that day forward I have been a lifelong devotee of Classical Music. Thirteen years ago we purchased a home in the Berkshires so that I could be closer to Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra,

Mar. 14 2013 11:18 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Follow WQXR