Bach: Motet BWV 225, “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied”

My God This Is Amazing!

Video post by @giobrach.

Source: Bach: Motet BWV 225, “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied”

Music For Easter

Happy Easter. Even if you aren’t a believer, there is something wonderful and redemptive and renewing about the spring.


Bach: Easter, Mass in B minor



Bach’s Easter Oratorio: Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4



Mahler – Symphony No 2, Resurrection



Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus–Beethoven
Oratorio: Christ on the Mount of Olives–Hallelujah


Happy Saint Valentine’s Day

In honor of St. Valentine’s Day, I wanted to post these three excerpts that capture exquisitely (for me) the transcendent and healing power of love.  They are Carl Orff, “Amor Volat Undique,” “Stetit Puella” and “Dulcissime” from Carmina Burana.

Amor Volat Unique (Love Flies Everywhere)

“If a girl lacks a man
she misses all delight;
darkest night is at the bottom
of her heart.
This is the bitterest fate.

Stetit Puella (There Stood A Girl)

There stood a maid
in a red tunic;
when it was touched
the tunic rustled.
Ai!

There stood a girl,
like a rose;
her face was radiant;
her mouth bloomed.
Ai!

Dulcissime (The Sweetest Boy)

Sweetest one! Ah!
I give myself to you totally!

While reading about Carmina Burana today, I found out that Orff intended it to be performed with choreography, dance, interesting design and other stage action.  In 2009, I attended the 40th anniversary of the Oregon Country Fair.  This event was started in 1969 by Ken Kesey’s  Merry Pranksters, and runs for three days in a wilderness area of the Willamette Valley, outside of Eugene.  At this gathering of the heirs of the 1960s counter culture, 45,000 people come, many in costume, to spend three days listening to music, browsing booths where craftspeople sell their hand-made items, watching and performing music, getting massages, eating organic food, and generally being mellow.  As a stodgy, up-tight, 54 year-old guy from Washington DC, I was sucked in by the freedom and loving  atmosphere.

Here is an account written by one of the performers.

The last concert of the weekend took place in a large field at one of which was a large bandshell.  All weekend I’d listened to music of the Beatles, Grateful Dead, and folk and 60s rock and psychedelic traditions. So I was pleased to see the culminating event was to be a performance of Carmina Burana accompanied by a “Fire Choir.”  This was a group of volunteer musicians, actors, singers, acrobats and fire handlers.  It sounds a bit odd, but it turned out to be a really good musical performance (some of the vocal parts are notoriously hard to sing), and the performance at sunset with the fire handlers was, to use a 1960s term, groovy.  Here are two clips.

[Youtube=”https://youtu.be/e0nR0ZBJ_Pw”%5D

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Summer reruns–Johann Sebastian Bach: Minuet in G major

I’ve been writing a lot lately about pieces that have watery themes. Bach certainly did not have water on the brain when he penned this minuet, but in the 60s the tune was used in a Motown pop record. A woman with a strong, gospel-trained voice belted out the words, which went something like “How gentle is the rain…”

It’s not hard to imagine how this melody got to Detroit. In 1994, my daughter started violin lessons. Her teacher used the Suzuki books, which have graded pieces. The Minuet in G major is one of the last ones in the first book. It also happens to be one of the first pieces in the key of G, which on the violin requires different fingering than what you’ve been blithely playing for nearly a year.

In the key of A, starting on the third string, you play open string, put the first finger down for B and then play C and D with the second and third fingers–all three being equally spaced. On the G scale, however–which starts with the third finger on the second string–when you get to the A string, you put the first finger down like you’ve always done, but to play B you suddenly put the second finger down right next to the first! All major scales go whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. The hard thing on the violin is that there are no frets to represent whole and half steps. The piano is luxurious in a way because the placement of the keys and the black keys clearly show which are whole and half.

The minuet was a French country dance that became very popular in the 17th century and which was eventually formalized by composers as an integral part of the suite. Eventually as suites migrated and changed into symphonies, the minuet movement developed into the scherzo. As a simple dance form, it had a three-beat rhythm, like a waltz. It is a good piece for beginners because the strong beat helps you remember it.

Bach had two wives and 20 children! Four of his sons became famous composers in their own right. Their household must have been something. You think: a prototype for the Von Trap family. When I looked online for this piece, I found it buried in what is called the “The Anna Magdalena Notebooks.” He wrote these to teach his second wife, Anna Magdalena, how to play. Poor lady. Imagine having to bear that many children and then sit down to tickle the ivories. I had trouble finding time to have quality time with my two daughters when they were little! How did Anna Magdalena do it?  Recently, I heard that after Anna Magdalena raised those children, they abandoned her and she died penniless.

Anna Magdalena’s Biography
Buy Recording or Download Mp3 At Amazon

Summer Reruns–Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

Bach supposedly wrote these 30 variations on a simple theme for the insomniacal Count Keyserlingk, Russian ambassador to the kingdom of Saxony. Musical scholars agree they represent the pinnacle of baroque keyboard technique. Their name became associated with the count’s harpsichordist, Johann Goldberg, who was only 14 when they were written. Keyserlingk was so pleased with the work that he gave Bach a goblet filled with 100 Louis D’Or.

I will leave it to others to analyze the music, for example this page is devoted to the nine canons in the variations. In addition to canons, Bach also took the melody and turned it into fugues, arias, French overtures and a quodlibet. These variations are known for being killers–one for example requires the pianist to play with both hands crossed all the way through. They are intricate and meticulously crafted, and though Bach wrote few variations on themes, these are considered the text book examples of how to do so.

A couple of years ago, I was in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in Accra, Ghana, when someone started playing the Goldberg Variations baby grand piano in the small lobby next to the bar.  It blew me away, of course, to hear it in such an unexpected place, but even more of a treat was being able to sit almost beside the pianist and watch him play.   It turns out he was just the accompaniast for an American soprano who was performing that night.

I first heard the piece, when I was living in the French House of Indiana University, in 1975.

There was an irony to living at the French House–few people living there actually made a point of speaking French. It took too much effort and no one really policed us. A native French resident assistant (RA) did live there both of my years there, but he didn’t have the time to go snooping in on every conversation. During the first year, when the RA, Olivier, did try to get the other members of my clique to speak French, they would do so with the most hideously American accent, and that would shut him up.

Once a week, the French Department would encourage other native speakers and students to come to our cafeteria and sit at the French table, and that was more rigorous. Or they would organize lectures and slide shows in the lounge of our dorm. It was still intimidating to me, who’d never been abroad, and who’d only been lectured to in a kind of academic French, which as different from spoken French as Dickens is to American rap vernacular.

There was a guy in my dorm who was nearly bi-lingual, and I once witnessed Olivier correct him when he made an almost imperceptible pronunciation mistake. It wasn’t like it prevented him from understanding the message, it was sheer one-upsmanship and linguistic (and even cultural) chauvinism. You see, no French person can bear to hear anyone butcher his language.

If you want to learn to speak a langauge, one of the worst ways to go about it is to study it in college. The best way is to have a love affair with a native speaker. The second best way is to go to the country. In university, they usually start with grammar, which is unfortunate, since language changes more rapidly than compilers of grammar books and dictionaries can keep up with. Psycholinguists have shown that learning a language requires mastering a complex blend of psycho-motor, cognitive, and conceptual skills some of which atrophy by the time we get into our late teens. We can learn a second language as an adult, but rarely well enough to be taken as a native speaker, and it takes a long time.

The reason I bring this up is that–despite this psychological fact–years ago when I was learning French, native speakers would not cut you any slack at all when trying to learn their language. To the credit of the French educational system, school children in France are taught to revere their language and use it effectively and efficiently both orally and in writing. Every year, the French newspaper,  Le Monde, publishes what is considered to be the best final essay which every high school student must pass in order to matriculate to college. Some of these read like philosophical tracts.

Being shy, that pretty much sucked all the enthusiasm out of my trying to speak French, and I didn’t learn to do so until after graduate school, when I went to Algeria to teach English. Algeria, being a former French colony, had a bilingual population, and being Muslims, prided themselves on being good hosts. They would never correct you, and so there I became comfortable enough to loosen my tongue and made more progress there in 6 months than I had in four years of university study.

This might make it sound like I have something against the French. One thing everybody has to learn is to rely on themselves–their inherent worth–despite how other people react. That was something that I learned only 20 years later and forget from time to time. Other people were much thicker skinned than I was back in the 1970s and learned to speak French.

The French Resident Assistant, who moved into the French House in the fall of 1975, ended up becoming one of my better friends and I still keep in touch, looking him up whenever I am in Paris, where he now lives. His name is Jean-Marc Fernandez, and perhaps we became friends because he actually grew up in Algeria, coming to France after his father was killed there during the revolution in 1962.

Like so many French, Jean-Marc had a lust for all facets of life–the intellectual as well as the artistic. He had come to Indiana University to work on a PHd in political science and business. He spoke Spanish and could hold his own in German and Russian. JM had done his masters degree in American literature and was better-read than I was in the authors of my own country. He also loved film and classical music, preferring, of course, French composers.

The first day he moved into the French, he was surprised to see that an old friend of his, Rosemary Bourgault had moved into a room on the girl’s floor. They immediately became an item and eventually married. But again, he had eclectic tastes and I believe I heard today’s piece, Bach’s Goldberg Variations in his room. It was around that time period that someone had made a film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Slaughterhouse Five which used some of the pieces from the Variations in the sound track. Jean-Marc liked the movie and I think had a copy of the recording.

Glenn Gould seems to be the foremost interpreter of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and I recently heard this 1959 recording he made.

It’s in mono, but I like the youthful interpretation.  Compare it to the earlier version and tell me if you prefer one to the other.

Summer Reruns–Johann Sebastian Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

(This is the one of my posts that has gotten the most hits.)

Johann Sebastian Bach is another one of those great composers whose music can serve as a starting point for someone interested in learning about classical music. I use the term generic term “classical” here to refer to all “serious” music, because as most of you know, Bach falls into the baroque period. Confused yet? I think I can be forgiven, because The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music lists among its definition for “classical”, “music of permanent value, not ephemeral.” The technical definition is to describe music that is concerned with form and proportion rather than emotion, and usually refers to the 18th and early 19th century. The Oxford manages to get a dig in at us hoi polloi: “Amongst less educated people, music with no ‘tune’ in it.” Those whacky Brits. How can you not love a country that gave us Shakespeare and baked beans on toast?


Baroque refers to the period of music immediately preceding classical, that is the 17th and early 18th century, usually from Germany and Austria. Baroque, from the French meaning “bizarre,” was applied to the fanciful wrought-gold and cherub adorned architecture of that time period. Bach was probably the most prolific composers (in more ways than one) of this period: he produced countless works for the organ, chorus, instruments and orchestra—-plus 23 sons. That doesn’t sound too impressive, except for the sons, but consider this, he wrote a cantata (in this case a sung mass) for every day of the year!

I usually think of music from this time period as being either stately—like Handel’s Water Music and Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos—or meticulous like Bach’s works for solo instruments such as the harpsichord, violin, viola and of course the organ. Bach wrote a lot of organ music, having been a church organist and director of the school of the church of Saint Thomas in Leipzig.

The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is probably one of Bach’s most famous and accessible pieces. It gets played a lot around Halloween in the U.S., because some idiot used it the soundtrack for some horror movie years ago. The opening part, the toccata, for that reason now sounds ominous and full of sturm und drang. The fugue is a form of composition that has several “voices” or melodies that start in succession, almost like a round, but then which interweave with one another according to strict rules of harmony. This is why the music to me sounds meticulous or mathematical. The modern philosopher, Douglas Hofstader, wrote a huge tome called Godell, Escher, and Bach in which he analyzes the structure of the fugue, almost ad nauseum.

Another place where the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor turns up is in Walt Disney’s film Fantasia. Leopold Stokowski orchestrated the piece and the Disney cartoonist used the technique of aurora borealis to represent the different voices of the fugue. It’s sort of boring really, and to my mind, kind of emasculates this piece.

Of course, as an adolescent, I was drawn to the toccata, but eventually I came to love the fugue as well, which is actually quite beautiful and sweet compared to the strong emotions in the toccata. In my high school French class, I met a fellow student, named John Claeys, who was a gifted artist and could play the organ by ear. One of his hobbies was collecting decorative molding from abandoned Victorian houses in our county. His basement bedroom looked like something out of a horror film itself, with its dark paneling. John had even found an old upright pump organs on one of his forays and installed this in his lair. He was able to figure out the fingering for part of the toccata and took great pleasure wheezing it out on that old organ.

John and I made a horror movie for our French class with his dad’s super eight camera. I played a crazed madman, who at one point runs out of control in my mothers black 1968 Volkwagen beetle and dirves it over a cliff. John sacrificed one of his plastic car models for the actual crash and burning of the bug. The only thing it had to do with French class were the hand-written dialog cards, which said things like sacre bleu! Of course, we used the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for the soundtrack.

In 1972 or thereabouts, an organist named Virgil Fox, decided to adapt techniques from The Grateful Dead and give concerts with psychedelic light shows. He came to a small private college in my home town and I dragged John along to the concert with me. It was absolutely captivating.

Fox must have thought he was the reincarnation of Franz Lizst: he strode onstage wearing a black cape, which he whirled off as he sat down at his instrument. He played a huge five-manual (keyboard) organ and between pieces he would explain to the audience exactly how each piece was constructed and how complex it was. One piece, I think it was the Gigue Fugue, required him to play four melodies, one with each appendage simultaneously. The crowd—and I—went wild and after he finished he played a number of encores. After each set of applause would die down, I would stand up and scream “Play Toccata and Fugue in D Minor!”. After his fourth encore, and dripping with sweat, he yelled back “OK!” Needless to say, I was transported when he played it, and though somewhat embarrassed by my behavior after all these years, I still enjoy this piece.

Explaining “S.D.G.”

That’s humility.

2pluslovemakes1

This is a letter to Radio Classique in Paris, where an announcer did not understand “S.D.G.”.
There are 2000 works attributed to Bach.  Every one of these works is signed S. D. G.
One of these works is a cantata called, ” Adam must be crucified with Jésus so that New-Man might be born.”
Here, Bach is showing to the world, with no shame, that he understands and lives eternal life.
In the New Jerusalem, where Bach evidently lived, the harmony of the universe must always be maintained. Something that the world can never understand is this law of the universe, because life in the world is not ever affected by this law.
Let me repeat that: the harmony of the universe must always be maintained.  The life of the world is so completely isolated from the universe, out of respect for man, which is the result of love, and…

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Johann Sebastian Bach: Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring (Naturally Bach)

Bach’s birthday is March 31.  He’ll be 331 years old.  In his honor, here’s a striking video I saw last year on a blog.  It’s quite pleasing.  Below it are a number of other arrangements.  Tell me which you prefer. Poll at bottom of this post.

Jesu is actually the last movement of Bach’s Cantata BWV 147–Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and mouth and deed and life). Written in his first year in Leipzig for the Mass that celebrates the Visitation of Mary by the angel announcing she’d be giving birth to the Messiah.

The German title for this piece is Jesus bleibet meine Freude which means “Jesus shall remain my gladness.” The more accepted English title comes from a piano transcription by Dame Myra Hess:

Piano

Here is a version for orchestra and chorus, which you might find a bit bombastic:

Orchestra with Chorus (Auf Deutsch)

I kind of like this version, which is simpler, using just four instruments:

String Quartet

Probably the nicest is the original scoring for 4 soloists, a 4 part chorus, and according to Wikipedia, “a festive trumpet, two oboes (oboe d’amore, oboe da caccia), two violins, viola and basso continuo including bassoon.”

So which do you prefer?


An interesting chronology of Bach’s life can be found here.

Johann Sebastian Bach Brandenburg Concerto Number 5 in D Major

I chose today’s piece, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto Number 5 because the first movement always gives me the impression of forward movement. It would be a perfect accompaniment to a scene from a movie where a horse-drawn coach, pulled by a chestnut gelding, trundles along a French country lane. (Or a 21 year-old on his first visit to France–see an excerpt from my memoir below). It always puts me in a light and happy mood.

The liner notes to my old vinyl recording of this concerto, conducted by Pablo Casals, states that it is the only one of the six Brandenburgs to treat the keyboard as an integral member of the featured instruments. In the others that have a keyboard, it is merely played as a continuo, that is a harmonic accompaniment. In the fifth concerto, however, the keyboard definitely the most important instrument. On the recording I have, the keyboard part was performed on piano by Rudolf Serkin, a rather famous pianist in the second third of this century.

Bach gives the second movement over to an unaccompanied trio consisting of flute, violin and keyboard. Serkin, I believe, was noted for his chamber playing, and on this recording, the trio plays the slow and pensive “affetuoso” movement with grace and feeling.

Bach gets our feet tapping again in the third movement with another fast tempo, this time a gigue. It starts out as a round with the violin stating the twelve-note theme of a fugue. Next, the flute joins in with the theme followed next by the piano. Finally the rest of orchestra picks up the fourth voice in the fugue and the piece continues on its rapid way, each instruments weaving in and out and around one another in an intricate pattern. About, three quarters of the way through, the fugue ends, and so Back restarts it again in the same order-violin, flute, piano and orchestra.

I was just thinking how intricate the last movement was, and how complex it must be for an orchestra to play. But then I remembered that he wrote two-part, three-part, four-part, and five-part inventions for keyboard. How taxing that must be for the poor piano player, you might think. But what about his great organ pieces, like the Tocatta and Fugue in D minor in which the organist also uses each leg as well on the foot keyboard! Bach managed to build such complex and revolutionary pieces out of basics forms of his day. They were new and revolutionary and yet stood on the solid ground of the tradition in which he grew up. See, you can be creative and interesting without tearing everything down.

Download MP3 or buy CDs of Johann Sebastian Bach: 6 Brandenburg Concertos / 4 Orchestral Suites – The English Concert / Trevor Pinnock

Biography

Landing in France

The 747 circled lazily over the French countryside. I must confess that my nose was pressed against the window as we descended and the swatches and daubs of colors turned into farmland and small towns. I had flown before, of course, and was therefore used to seeing shopping malls, mass-produced houses made of ticky-tacky, and industrial-sized farms from above. But seeing France from the air took my by surprise. It was as if the whole fabric of the landscape–and hence how one saw the world–were woven out of different material.

The small villages sat at the crossroads of two roads, lined by hedgerows that ran through the fields. These town had an organic appearance. Vaguely round, sometimes bisected by a creek or small river, they were a complex interweaving of trees, honey-colored stone walls, gray roofs and winding lanes. Sometimes, at the apex of one of the small conurbations, I’d see the shiny gray slate roof of a church and its spire pointing skyward. It was like looking down on an entirely different and ancient but vibrant world.

For the first time in my life, I had a feeling of stepping into the great river of history and somehow being connected to it. It was a feeling of homecoming. For some reason, American life and popular culture have seemed somewhat foreign to me. Most of the really successful people here say we must look to the future and those who can’t change and adapt are doomed. Unfortunately that usually gets interpreted as rejecting all the traditions, history and disciplines that got us here in the first place. Perhaps growing up as the grandson of immigrants made me feel more connected to the “old world.” Maybe that’s retrogressive of me, but I see the wasteful alternative played out on a daily basis as people constantly reinvent the wheel.

I soon learned France was a place that was both keenly aware of its past and could embrace the trends of the future as well. Take the airport where I landed–Charles De Gaulle. In January of 1977 when I first landed there, it was one of the most modern airports in the world, and it still seems that way to me in my mind’s eye. Your plane lands at one of the satellite terminals and you take incredibly long moving walkways to the main terminal where you collect your bags. Inside, you must take an escalator inside a glass tube that passes through a central circular atrium, like the veins of some huge organism.

The second thing that struck me about France was how it smelled. As soon as the door opened into the terminal a pungent smell met my nose. It was a mixture of the smells of coffee, chocolate, real butter, perspiration and the ubiquitous black tobacco cigarettes–Gauloise and Gitanes.

After gawking like a tourist for about an hour and passing through customs, I managed to find out that a bus would take me to a train that would drop me at the Gare du Nord. While waiting for the bus, I walked over to a little café cum news stand and bought a croissant. The semester before, my friend Thom Klem, had taught me how they make croissants. You make a pastry dough, roll it out, spread it with a layer of butter, fold it up, roll it out again, and repeat this procedure a few more times. The layers of fat and dough are what makes them so light and rich at the same time.

The croissant I bought during my first hour in France was a bit of a disappointment, but I savored the moment anyway. I climbed on the train at Charles De Gualle airport, which slid through the small track-side towns, then suburbs and finally past the high rise apartment buildings of the 18 arrondissement. Here I was, a bumpkin from Indiana, thousands of miles away from home in a place where no one at all knew me. It was now up to me to find my way through this new world all on my own. I had to find a place to stay, get myself enrolled in classes and manage my funds to last until June. What a wonderful journey I was beginning.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Brandenburg Concerto Number 6 in B-flat major

I have written before I think of the wonderful people who have appeared at certain times in my life to show me little wondrous corners of life and point me in the right direction. Today, I write about two more, college professors, as it turns out, one of whom helped me hear a familiar piece of music as if for the first time.

Back in high school, I had bought a collection of all six Brandenburg concerti conducted by Pablo Casals, but I had not paid that much attention to the 6th until a professor of genetics used it to illustrate a point for us. (Please see my article after the description of the 6th below.)

One of the remarkable things about this concerto is that Bach omitted the violins entirely. Instead Bach gives melody to the violas and cellos, which creates a rich, mature and stately feeling. To me it brings to mind a carriage trundling along the English country side in the lengthening shadows of a long summer sunset. For the second movement, Bach removes all accompanying instruments and the cellos and violas play a moving, poignant duet that climbs and climbs before resolving and then lovingly recedes leaving an afterglow of tenderness. The final movement is the a syncopated gigue which trips along, and gives me the happy feeling of a peal of joyous church bells at Christmas.

Bach Biography

Purchase Bach – Brandenburg Concertos / Britten, ECO

 

1976: A Time of Seeing Things Anew

In November of 1976, Jimmy Carter was elected president. Not only had I voted in my first presidential election, but my candidate had one. That creep Nixon and his dolt of a vice president were gone. What more could I want?

I would like to say that the experience turned me into a political activist. That I envisioned myself one day becoming president. After all, if a peanut farmer from Georgia with a populist message could get elected, then I could, too. He started out on the school board, for God’s sake. This could have been a defining moment for me-a turning point in my career. I could have set my course for the White House. But as was the case at many pivotal points in my life, when I stepped up to the plate, I could not see beyond the end of my bat. In fact, most of the time, I didn’t even see myself as a player in the game.

Like many people who grew up at the tail end of the 1960s, I really had no clue of what I wanted to do with my life except to avoid selling out. At the same time I was a kind of dilettante and loved studying new things. Every semester I seemed to take a new language–Latin, Spanish, German and Italian. For me studying a language was kind of like doing a crossword puzzle, working out how the pieces fit together and what the message was. I could sit and translate for hours, but I was too timid to speak.

This brings me to an odd contradiction in my life–I have always done and studied just about anything I wanted, but I never felt completely in control of my destiny. How does a person get that way? Over the years I have met scores of goal-directed people who became lawyers, doctors, artists, and professors. I just couldn’t find my niche and got bored once I hit a certain level of understanding.

Yet I had dreams. I wanted to be a doctor, but I didn’t think I could get accepted to medical school so I didn’t even try. I wanted to be an artist, but would not take art classes, thinking that I had to have a natural talent for it like my high school friends Kerry and Jayne. I wanted to be a musician, but knew that I was too old to become famous at it and so abandoned it after taking one semester of piano. I wanted to be a writer, and chose as my model James Joyce, whom I knew I could never imitate–I never studied Greek!

This brings me to the other paradox of my life. I wanted instant success in the things that I wanted to do, but I ignored and failed to build on the natural abilities I had. How did I manage never to get good career advice? I’ve since come to learn that anything you want to do well takes time and over the years I have been working on writing and have been satisfied with the little successes I have had with it. My greatest challenge is to keep myself from thinking I’m too old and have missed the boat.

But way back in college, I usually only set short term goals for myself. In the fall of 1976, pretty much all I wanted to do was get through the semester and leave for Paris in January. My goal was to study at the Sorbonne or the Alliance Francaise and get my spoken French up to speed. I thought I should be able to transfer my experience into enough college credits to graduate in the summer.

Though a French major, that fall I only took two language classes. The first was a contemporary literature class in which we had to read the first volume of Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdus, Andre Gide’s Les Caves du Vatican and Jean Paul Sartre’s La Nausee. The class was taught by an stout middle-aged French woman who dyed her hair and wore thick mascara and bright red lipstick. Her enthusiasm for the works knew no bounds.

The second French class was one of the most wonderful classes I have ever taken. It was an honors colloquium devoted to 18th century France, known as the Age of Enlightenment. What made this course so wonderful was that we met in the Lily rare book library on campus. The Lily foundations, founded by the pharmaceutical family, had built this wonderful, Art Deco mausoleum and filled it with rare books that the family had collected. They had a Gutenberg Bible, of course, Diderot’s Encyclopedie, and countless other books. We studied the social, political, artistic and philosophical movements of the time period leading up to the revolution and then read original authors works from the first edition books published during their life time. I loved picking up the old, leather tomes and running my hand over the vellum. We had to write a term paper for the class and I chose to write about a 35-volume collection of fairy tales that spanned that century called Le Cabinet des Fees. It contained the original versions of “Bluebeard,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Snow White.” I discussed how the genre evolved over the century and reflected the growing anti-royalist sentiment of the day. Our professor was an inspired guy named Michael Berkvam who lectured passionately about the works and inspired us with the love that he had for the writers and that time period. He never talked down to us and treated us like equals. He once invited the class to his house for a party where we stayed late discussing philosophy and getting drunk. I was amused to find a small bookshelf in his bathroom on which he kept a copy of the Bible. When I remarked on it, he said “What better place?” He always got the highest student evaluations and the French and Italian department rewarded him the next year by denying him tenure.

That fall I also took a wonderful genetics class geared for the humanity students. The professor was a genial man with horrible allergies whose desire was to convince us liberal arts majors that we weren’t scientific dolts. He tried to make the study of genetics fun, and he did a great job. One day, he showed a film about the replication of DNA, which he said occurs with a mathematical precision and at a rhythm that he realized was mirrored by the tempo of the third movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto Number 6.

Now this wasn’t the first time I had heard the work. I had bought a collection of all six concerti conducted by Pablo Casals, but it was the first time that I really paid attention to the 6th.

I have written before I think of the wonderful people who have appeared at certain times in my life to show me little wondrous corners of life and point me in the right direction. These two college professors from such seemingly different backgrounds as science and French literature influenced me greatly and I only hope that we adults today remember the important role we can play in modeling behavior for youth that focuses on ennobling rather than preaching

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