Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Should musicians have to play from memory alone?

Another article by Susan Tomes, a follow-up to her previous piece "All in the mind". Published in The Guardian, 4/24/07:

"I don't think we should confuse good musicianship with the ability to memorise. Yes, there are some musicians who memorise easily and who relish the experience of performing without the score, free as a bird. To hear someone playing by heart with supreme confidence is a thrilling experience. But there are also plenty of intelligent, sensitive people whose musical gifts are actually inhibited by the strain of being made to play without the music."

Read the rest of this article here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All In the Mind

By concert pianist Susan Tomes, published in The Guardian, 4/20/07:

"I recently went to a party where our host regaled us with a compilation of concert recordings in which famous pianists had suffered from horrible memory lapses. Everyone fell about with laughter at the sound of celebrities going hideously off the rails, but, as a pianist, I found it an uncomfortable experience. The struggles of Curzon, Richter and Rubinstein with memorisation had become a spectator sport.

Playing from memory in public is a fairly recent fashion. Before the late 19th century, playing without the score was often considered a sign of casualness, even of arrogance. The custom of playing from memory developed along with the growth of a body of classics that everyone agreed were worth preserving exactly as their composers had intended. Teachers encouraged students to memorise them. Many young players memorise easily, but it gets harder as time goes on. As the pianist Charles Rosen put it: 'With advancing age, memory becomes doubly uncertain; above all, what begins to fail is confidence in one's memory, the assurance that the next note will follow with no conscious effort.'"

Read the rest of this article here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Closing Out Year 2009

Today marks the close of my teaching studio for year 2009. This was the 7th full year of my teaching, and growth continues.

For me, this was a year of change:

  • In May, I set up my own website to promote my teaching and help make communication with students and parents easier. Soon after that, I set up this blog for another means of cataloguing my thoughts and ideas.
  • In October, my wife and I bought a house in Castro Valley. This has brought great joy and learning for me/us, as well as challenges. We're finally beginning to feel settled.
  • This year my colleague Jason and I jointly organized an inaugural summer recital for our students, with great success. We plan to continue presenting two yearly recitals going forward -- one in early December, and one at the end of the school year in June.
  • I began teaching the art of music composition to a select group of students. This has been a lot of fun for me, and I hope those students were enriched as well.
I am always interested in hearing from parents, students, or any random reader of this blog. Your thoughts are vital to me. I continue to "seek to excel" in my profession.

Thank you to everyone who graciously presented me with Christmas gifts and cards this week. Your thoughtfulness is not lost on me. I wish you all a holiday time filled with peace and joy.

I resume my regular teaching schedule on Monday, January 4.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037

"Note by Note" will make you want to own a Steinway piano. This world-renowned company certainly are skilled at promoting their brand! This is a fascinating peek inside the Steinway piano factory, showcasing the "family" of laborers who construct these intricate machines. Insights from several top performing pianists (all Steinway-endorsed, mind you) provide additional, unique insights. 

This is fascinating viewing for anyone with an interest in pianos and piano playing. I have already recommended this film to many people, and all who have since viewed it have thanked me.

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037Note By Note

As a postlude to my review above, here are some thoughts on the documentary from a fellow Netflix viewer named JSkyer:

"As a piano technician I appreciate this documentary for what it really is: An extended promotional piece for Steinway. And with the exception of the dramatic opening scene where a team of big burly men use all their strength to force layers of lamination around a mold to form the piano's rim, that’s pretty much all it is. Steinway, Yamaha, Bosendorfer, Fazioli, Bluthner, any piano manufacturer that has a high end, hand built line is going to have a devoted team of craftspeople that have spent years, if not decades, honing their skills. Steinway is no different, they are just better at self promotion and branding, hence this “documentary”. When push comes to shove, if you are in the market for a high end hand built piano forget about the name on the fallboard and buy the one that gives you the sound you want and provides the touch that works for you while falling within your budget. Unless you have an ego that demands that your friends see you with a Steinway, NO other parameters matter."

Wise thoughts, indeed. Regardless of his critique(s) it's a great film worth seeing.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man

I'm confident that about 97% of the people I have encountered in life would hate the music Scott Walker currently makes. The man was a teen idol in 1960's Britain with the Walker Brothers, but since then he has taken many an artistic detour. The music he strives after these days is decidedly non-populist.
The documentary film "Scott Walker: 30 Century Man" presents Mr. Walker and his work candidly, and with unprecedented access to this publicity-shy man. The film was produced by David Bowie.
I can't say that I'm convinced by Scott Walker's recent work. It is extremely experimental, intentionally difficult, and devoid of "anchors" for listeners. Perhaps it's just not for me.
But before you shut the man out of a space in your collective psyche, witness these glowing quotes from two outstanding musical minds (excerpted from their interviews for the film):
"[Scott Walker is] like an intrepid explorer, or something. Somebody who goes to a part of the world that nobody has ever been to before. Now, that part of the world may be very inhospitable, and full of dangerous animals, or whatever. You wouldn't particularly want to live there yourself, but you have to admire somebody who is willing to follow the path there and stick the flag down, and say, 'Look... this is where you can go.'"
"He really should be -- as far as I'm concerned -- recognized as one of our great composers. But not only that; as one of our great poets as well. His lyrics are absolutely peerless. And it's very surprising to me that he's still largely regarded as a slightly marginal figure. Alright: he isn't very prolific, but the quality of the work he's done is so extraordinary."
Don't you want to buy a Scott Walker LP now? These quotes are compelling! For a look into this musical mind, you can watch the trailer here.
FYI: This film will not compel the average 12 year old (or 50 year old, for that matter...).

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thoughts on the 12/6 Recital

A few days have passed, and I've had some time to reflect on the latest Piano/Guitar recital. I thought the event was very smooth this time around. The quality of performances was good throughout, and everyone seemed encouraged.

There are a few thoughts I want to record:

- Can we speed up the set-up time for guitarists & bassists?

- The Group 2 program was too long! We need a more even balance of lengths next time.

- We need more collaborations between guitar & piano students in the future. (These require a lot more lead time - plan months in advance!)

- Certificate of Awesomeness?

Do you have any thoughts as to what we can improve for future performances? Please email me and let me know:

The next recital date is (tentatively) Sunday, June 6. The goal for these performances remains the same: make each one better than the last.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

7 Surprising Benefits of Music Education

From, August 2009:

1) Music activities boost brainpower
2) Music leads to literacy skills
3) Music adds to children’s understanding of math
4) Music helps children live in harmony with others
5) Music is active
6) Singing helps children stay strong
7) Music supports self-expression

Read the full article here.

5 Reasons to Play a Musical Instrument

1. Playing A Musical Instrument Makes You Smarter
2. It Teaches Discipline
3. Playing A Musical Instrument Relieves Stress
4. Sense of Achievement
5. Playing A Musical Instrument is Fun

Read the full article here.

Selecting Your Last Piano First

From, 2008:

"Your new piano will be a valued, lifelong companion if you choose wisely. Do not be swayed by a fast-talking salesman, lowest price, or trendy looks. A piano should be chosen just as you would a valued friend.

A piano is a musical instrument first, and a fine piece of furniture, second. All fine pianos will have certain characteristics with them. This is a discussion of what to look for."

To read the rest of this article, click here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December 2009 Teaching Schedule

-- I will not be teaching during the last 2 weeks of December. A regular teaching schedule will resume on Monday, Jan. 4, 2010. Enjoy the Christmas break!

- On Dec. 14, 15, and 17 I have to leave teaching early for rehearsals. I will be rescheduling any students I normally see at 7pm or later to earlier times for that week only. I hope to be able to accommodate everyone without too much difficulty.

-- The latest Piano/Guitar recital is happening this Sunday, Dec. 6 in the recital hall of the music building at CSUEB. Group 1 starts at 1pm. Group 2 starts at 2:30pm. Admission is $5 for adults without a ticket. Kids' admission (18 & under) is free. Be there or be square, etc.

-- I am performing with the Moreau Catholic High School choirs at their winter concert on the evening of Friday, Dec. 4. All pertinent information can be found here.

-- Lastly, I am also performing with the Douglas Morrison Theatre Community Chorus for their weekend of concerts on 12/18, 12/19, and 12/20. All pertinent information can be found at the bottom of this page.

Longer than normal, I know... December is always a busy month.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

December 6 Recital Fee

Regarding the December 6 recital:

There is a $10 recital fee required from all performing students. This fee will give admission to 2 adults per every student. Additional adult guests will be charged $5 admission. Kids' admission is free.

Why the fees, you ask?

- The CSUEB recital hall is rather expensive to rent, and the collected fees from each student help cover our incurred costs.
- Jason & I spend a lot of extra time preparing these events, and much of our invested time is without compensation.
- Not every music teacher offers recital performance opportunities to their students. This is a service we provide for our students. The December 6 recital is not for us as teachers, to puff ourselves up! Instead, this event is for our students -- to aid in their musical development. Performing regularly in front of an audience is essential for growth as a musician.

Thanks for your support,

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November 2009 Teaching Schedule

-- My teaching schedule will be uninterrupted during the month of November, save on Thanksgiving day. I will be teaching Monday (11/23) and Tuesday (11/24) of that week, but will not be teaching on the holiday: Thursday, 11/26.

-- For students/parents who will be participating in the 2009-10 cycle of Certificate of Merit: the C.M. fees are due with your payment for November lessons. I am required to complete online registration prior to November 15 and also submit student fees at that time. Thanks for your help in making this a smooth process.

-- Lastly, there will be another joint Piano/Guitar recital on the afternoon of Sunday, December 6, to be held once again in the recital hall of the music building at CSUEB. Watch this space for all the pertinent details -- they will be posted around mid-November.
Students: be practicing diligently! ...(as always)

In abundant solidarity,

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Susan Clark's benefits of Music Education

Excerpted from a speech by Susan Clark, flute teacher and new MTAC president:

- It has been proven that studying music at a young improves a child's (and adult's) math skills. Fractions translate directly to Rhythm; Sets and Intersecting Sets are nothing more than musical keys and related keys. Private music study, and the practice required to learn the music, makes musicians excellent project managers, able to plan ahead toward individual or group goals. Musicians are able to manage time wisely and able to handle multiple projects at once, taking responsibility for each outcome.

- Much of musical training has to do with identifying and mastering patterns in everything from compositional structure to technical passages. Musicians can apply that ability to working environments, including computer technology. Those with musical aptitude and training have the closest match to persons with the personality and skills to be successful in today's technical world.

- Musicians tend to be creative people, in tune with their minds, their bodies, and their emotions. They are able to identify patterns in behavior and processes which may or may not work with speech. Musicians are able to work closely with others (especially instrumental musicians) and meet group goals. Musicians come to understand that it is only through working effectively with others (accompanists, conductors, and other performers) that a performance (or a project) will be successful).

Susan Clark, new MTAC President

Susan Clark is a flute teacher and the newly inaugurated MTAC President. Her July 6, 2009 acceptance speech is published in the Fall 2009 issue of the MTAC publication "The California Music Teacher". It contains many passages that I find inspiring. Here are some excerpts:

"So ... we are all music teachers. We all go through the same grind of scheduling the students who have chosen us as a teacher, teaching them the basics and the intricacies of the instrument they have chosen to play and we have chosen to teach, and then collecting our due payment for instruction. We coddle the slow-learners and revel in the joy of teaching those who catch on quickly... We keep our distance from stuffy noses and coughs... We deal with late arrivals, and those who hang around after lessons when we wish they would leave. We juggle our own lives to allow time for teaching and end up juggling the students' lives as well, as they try to find a balance between school and sports and music and church and a myriad of other outside influences. We act as mediator between students and their parents regarding the cost of music, the cost of lessons, the cost of recitals and competitions, the cost of instrument repair, and the importance of regular practice. We also end up being counselors by default, as students arrive at lessons with outside problems that need attention before they can concentrate on the lesson at hand. And amidst all of this -- we teach music.

You are all to be commended for your exceeding effort and success in teaching such a life skill. Not only are you teaching music, but you are teaching your students to literally survive in this world. Not many, if any, of our students come to us as prodigies, or will be solo/concerto winners, or complete the highest level of Certificate of Merit... Few, if any, will choose music as their course of study in college, and some won't even go to college. But I can guarantee you that your students will be successful in life. Often we lose track of our students after many years and don't realize that our music instruction had a major impact on their lives. In some cases, the student may not even realize the impact...

[We] have the very best profession of all -- teaching music, which is the basis for life itself. And survival in today's world is not easy. Musical development takes place over a span of time, beginning with the years it takes to develop the muscles (and the ears) required to "just get the notes right" and continuing as ability increases to perform musically. It culminates with the development of enough technical facility to attempt the most difficult and rewarding compositions. And all this time, the students thinks he's only learning music! But we know the truth. In reality, he's learning everything needed to face life, no matter where his goals and opportunities take him. In the words of Jon Nakamatsu (tonight's concert artist): when he was at the bedside of his long-time teacher, Marina Derryberry, he said to her: "You gave me my life." Never underestimate the impact your teaching can have on your students, because you, my fellow teachers, are where it starts."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What's going on

I "moved" to a new home in Castro Valley on Oct. 1, but the truth is my wife and I have been in a state of limbo, sleeping at my parents house and working on refurbishing our *new* home in the meantime. The previous tenant left all kinds of rubbish and general disrepair for us to tend to. What a kind woman! (<-----that is cynicism) It has been two weeks of near-constant graft and labor.

Finally, last night we were able to finish enough of our interior work to sleep in our new house. I am hopeful that stability will return to my life as we continue settling in over the coming weeks.

This period of my life has been challenging, but also encouraging. We have the opportunity to shape a home in the way that we would like (assuming we're willing to put in the work!).

Just thought I'd drop a note to let anyone interested know what's been going on lately. This move is like starting over.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 2009 Teaching Schedule

-- My teaching schedule will be uninterrupted during the month of October.

-- I am in the process of moving into a new home in Castro Valley, and thus may be a bit slower in responding to communications (especially email). Bear with me - I should be settled in from mid-month onwards.

Have a happy day,

Friday, September 25, 2009

Digital Pianos

Nothing matches the sound, touch and feel of a real piano. But there are occasions where a pianist does not have a real piano at his or her disposal. On these occasions, the common substitute instrument is a digital piano. These vary drastically in quality, just as real pianos do.

Now and again I'll post entries here on my blog promoting the most outstanding models I've recently played. I hope this proves especially useful to readers who are in the market for a digital piano.

Yamaha YDP-223
On 8/30/09 I played for a wedding at St. Victor's church in San Jose. The keyboard instrument at the church, a Yamaha YDP-223, was surprisingly excellent. The touch and response were great and the piano sound was truly outstanding. I didn't check out any of the other sounds and functions of the keyboard -- I was strictly interested in the piano sound for the music I performed that day. The Yamaha YDP-223's current list price is $1,600.

Yamaha CLP-123
From August-October '09 I have been rehearsing and performing with the "Sullivan & Gilbert" production at the Douglas Morrison Theatre in Hayward. The theatre has a Yamaha CLP-123 keyboard in the orchestra pit. This keyboard has a nice response and touch, although it can feel a bit flimsy at times. I tend to play heavily and sometimes the response from the CLP-123 makes the instrument seem fragile. Nonetheless, it is a great keyboard from the famed Yamaha Clavinova line. The CLP-123 model has been discontinued by the manufacturer. To look at more current Clavinova models, you can go here.

I must state once more that nothing beats the sound and feel of a real piano. Ask any seasoned pianist and they will tell you the same. Nonetheless, the digital pianos on the market are getting better and better. If you decide to go with a digital model, make sure you do the same amount of research you would if you were buying an acoustic piano.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

2009-10 Certificate of Merit Dates

Important dates for the upcoming 2009-2010 Certificate of Merit cycle:

September 15 C.M. Registration Opens
November 15 C.M. Registration Closes

January 2 Student Evaluation info - online forms open
January 20 Student Evaluation info - online forms close

March 6-7 North Region C.M. Performance Exams
March 13-14 North Region C.M. Performance Exams, Theory Exams at Chabot College

MTAC General Meeting in Castro Valley

This morning I attended the MTAC general meeting, held at the Castro Valley Center for the Performing Arts. All kinds of recriminations are threatened against active members who do not attend this meeting. Well, I made it to the meeting. My name is scrawled on the attendance sheet. Some 75 active MTAC members didn't show their faces. I guess they're gluttons for punishment.

This will be my 3rd year as a member of the Music Teachers Association of California (MTAC). Every meeting is awkward for me. I'm not great at casual banter. Usually I find a chair at the end of a row and keep quiet. My gender is poorly represented in my Southern Alameda branch. The ratio of females to males is literally 20 to 1. I do not exaggerate. Every time I step into one of these meetings I ask myself if I've taken a wrong turn at the Career Expo!

The assembled mass of teachers was talked at by various heads for about an hour and a half this morning. There are a few new rules related to the Certificate of Merit program going into effect this year, but nothing too significant. I will definitely plan to skip out of the meeting earlier next year.

Many of the female MTAC members have longtime friends that they rendezvous with at these meetings. Ladies are chatting it up like crazy before, during, and after the meeting, often to the detriment of whomever is speaking at the front of the room.

I enjoy my job as a teacher, and I am happy to be able to provide the Certificate of Merit program to my students. It is a program of study I undertook myself, all the way through to the end of high school. I can personally vouch for the benefits.

But the MTAC membership experience has been weird for me. I would love it if there was a more even balance between men and women members, but maybe that's unrealistic. I get to feeling like an alien after attending these things. Where do I fit in with this group? And other questions pop up, like, "Uh, does anyone here like Led Zeppelin?"

But we don't discuss the merits of John Bonham drum solos at these assemblages. Instead we reference William Bolcom piano etudes, and discuss performance practices for the music of Chopin. Fair enough, but too much of the dialogue is couched in antiquity.

I'll soldier on. As long as there's no obvious niche for me, I'll continue to work on hewing my own.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September 2009 Teaching Schedule

-- Monday, September 7 is Labor Day holiday. I will not be teaching that day.

-- I am performing in the orchestra pit for the Douglas Morrison Theatre production "Sullivan & Gilbert". The performances run from September 25 through October 11.

Also, there are dress rehearsals every evening the week of September 21, leading up to opening night. As a result of my involvement in these rehearsals, I will be ending my teaching early - at 6:30pm - on the evenings of 9/21, 9/22, and 9/24.

This is post #50 on my blog. Hooray for productivity!



Fall 2009 - Spring 2010 Studio happenings

Dear Students & Parents:

Here’s a note about some of the things that will be happening in my teaching studio from Fall 2009 through Spring 2010.

Music history -- listening and quizzes
I am preparing a program of study that will take interested students through the different periods of music history, teaching them about the famous composers and music from each period. The months of September and October will be spent learning about the Baroque Period (1600-1750). The following two months will focus on the Classical Period (1750-1825), and so on.
Listening examples will be available from September 1st via links on the front page of my website -- -- along with composer biographies and other helpful material. At the end of October, I will present a listening test to participating students.
(*If you prefer not to download the audio online, you can purchase a compilation CD of all the listening examples from me for $10)

July 2009 Recital DVDs
Copies of the July 2009 Piano/Guitar Recital DVD are available for a fee of $5. You can watch a promo clip of the recital on my website.

December 2009 Recital
There will be another joint piano and guitar recital in December. We are leaning toward Sunday, December 13th as the date, but we haven’t reserved the CSUEB recital hall yet, so this may change. I will keep you posted.

Certificate of Merit program -- Spring 2010
I will be presenting the Certificate of Merit program again in Spring 2010. This is for students & parents who wish to mark the student’s progress with yearly performance and music theory evaluations. Participation is encouraged. There is a minimal fee. If the student fulfills all the required elements for their level, they receive a certificate acknowledging their accomplishment.
More information can be found at

Composing Scenarios -- a composition exercises workbook
In recent months, I have been working on developing a workbook for students interested in composing their own music. The title of this series is “Composing Scenarios”. The first book is still a rough draft at this point, but I am willing to share the material with motivated students who would like to help me develop the book and also develop their abilities as young composers.

Student Binders
I would like all of my students who have not already done so to organize a binder for ongoing use in our lessons. The binder should contain dividers labelled with these titles:
Practice notes (fill this section with at least a dozen sheets of notebook paper)
Miscellaneous (a place for any handouts from me, etc.)

Thank you!

The Baroque Period

The Baroque Period (1600-1760)
The term Baroque is used to describe the style of music written from approximately 1600 to 1750. This title was originally used to describe a style of art and architecture of highly decorative and extravagant design in the 17th and 18th centuries. The elaborate detail of design during the Baroque period can also be seen in the furniture of the era. It was a time when people wore lavish clothes and ornamented themselves with ruffles, jewels, and powdered wigs.
Most Baroque musicians worked as servants of a royal court, church, or town. Their music reflected their occupations. Court musicians wrote dances and music for concerts and royal ceremonies. Church musicians wrote instrumental and vocal music for church services and oratorios and masses for special occasions. Some musicians were supported by patrons who expected the composer to write music for them. Most Baroque musicians were composers, performers, conductors, and also teachers. You can imagine how busy these individuals must have been!
Before the invention of the piano, keyboard music was written for the clavichord, harpsichord, and organ. The clavichord produces a small, delicate sound and was used mainly in small rooms as a practice instrument and also an aid for composition. The harpsichord has a bigger sound and was the favored keyboard instrument during the Baroque period. The organ was capable of producing a great sound and variety of effects. Used primarily for church services, the Baroque organ resembled the organs we still find in churches today.
Baroque keyboard music was frequently written in polyphonic texture, and a common form of composition was binary form. Much of the music was written to accompany dances, such as the minuet, gavotte, gigue, polonaise, march, bourree, and courante. The prelude was also an important type of composition during the Baroque era. Preludes are often intended to precede other pieces, as introductory music. The form of a prelude tends to be free and improvisatory. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote many preludes for his students, as exercises for developing keyboard technique.
A compositional technique known as counterpoint was developed and perfected in the Baroque era. Counterpoint involves combining two or more contrasting themes in a way that sounds unified. Examples of counterpoint are inventions and fugues.
The practice of embellishing a piece with ornaments was characteristic of the style of music performance in the Baroque period. Ornaments - such as trills, grace notes, turns, and rapid scale passages - were not always written in the musical score by the composer. It was customary that these be added at the performer’s discretion, to enhance the expressive quality of the music. This ornamentation was especially common for slower pieces, and also when repeating a section of a piece. It was considered unimaginative to repeat a section of music without adding any alterations. On the harpsichord or clavichord, where the decay of the sound occurs quickly after a note is struck, ornaments help provide resonance and give extended duration to the sound.
Composers of the Baroque period seldom wrote dynamic or articulation markings in the music. As with ornamentation, these issues of interpretation were left to the musical taste of the performer.
Baroque music reached its highest peak in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. To this day, many still believe that he is the greatest musician and composer to have ever lived.
Notable Baroque Composers:

Important musical characteristics of the Baroque Period:
      • Polyphonic texture
      • Use of ornamentation
      • Compositions for dance forms (often a full dance suite)
      • Limited use of dynamic and expression marks by composers 

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    Lived: 1685-1750
    Country: Germany
    Most Famous Works:
    Too many to list!

    Listening Links:

    Toccata & Fugue in D Minor

    E. Power Biggs - Bach: Works for Organ - Toccata and Fugue, for Organ in D Minor, BWV 565: Toccata

    Prelude & Fugue in C Major (from The Well-Tempered Clavier)

    Christiane Jaccottet - 100 Classical Essentials - Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, BWV 846, Prelude and Fugue In C Major

    Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (from Cantata 147)

    Drew Minter, Jan Opalach, Jane Bryden, Jeffrey Thomas, Joshua Rifkin & The Bach Ensemble - J.S. Bach: 6 Favourite Cantatas - Cantata 147 "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben", BWV 147: I. Coro: "Herz Und Mund Und Tat Und Leben"

    Suite for Cello Solo No. 1 in G

    János Starker - Bach, J.S.: Suites for Solo Cello & 2 Cello Sonatas - Suite for Cello Solo No. 1 in G, BWV 1007: I. Prélude

    Johann Sebastian Bach was a Baroque composer, organist, singer and violinist. He was a master of counterpoint, and is particularly renowned for his church music, including the famous St. John Passion and Mass in B Minor. Bach's music was "rediscovered" in the 19th century care of the "Bach revival" promoted by Felix Mendelssohn. J.S. Bach is now universally acclaimed as the unequaled giant of Baroque music, and one of the greatest musicians to ever live.

    Early Life of Johann Sebastian Bach

    J.S. Bach, was born in Eisenach, Germany on 21 March 1685. Orphaned at age 10, he went to live with his older brother Johann Christoph who gave him musical instruction on the clavichord.

    Bach came from a distinguished family of musicians and composers, dating as far back as the 16th century. In his own immediate family, only a few were not musicians.

    He married twice and had over 20 children, although several died in infancy. After his first wife, Maria Barbara died, he re-married, to Anna M. Wulkens, a singer. Among his many children, the ones who gained musical acclaim were: Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel (C.P.E.), Johann Christoph Friederich Bach, and Johann Christian Bach (J.C.).

    German Protestant Musician

    Bach was a devoted German Protestant. All of his compositions were dedicated with the inscription: ‘To the Greater Glory of God’. His sacred music includes about 200 church cantatas, the Easter and Christmas oratorios, masses and magnificat, canons, chorales, and his two great passions, St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion. These last two represent the culmination of his work in church choral music.

    Orchestral Music

    J.S. Bach's orchestral music includes his 6 Brandenburg Concertos written in 1721. These comprise a group of six instrumental works dedicated to Christina Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. Additionally, he composed 4 instrumental suites.

    Keyboard Music

    His keyboard music for pianoforte and organ, fugues, and choral music are of equal importance in his canon. These include a collection of 48 preludes and fugues, compiles under the title "The Well-Tempered Clavier", and the Toccata and Fugue in D minor for Organ (the “haunted house” music made famous by the original Phantom of the Opera). Among his organ music some of the finest works are the chorale preludes.

    Other Compositions

    J.S. Bach also wrote sonatas, partitas, chamber music and songs, and The Italian Concerto, a spectacular work for harpsichord, other concertos for keyboard and violin, and the collections of instrumental music from his final years at Leipzig.

    Last Years

    Bach had eye surgery twice in 1749 and became totally blind for a period. Miraculously, his eyesight returned for a while but during this same period, he died of a brain hemorrhage. He died in Leipzig on July 28, 1750 at the age of 65.

    Johann Sebastian Bach composed music for every genre of Baroque music except opera. His work has proved extremely influential on the composers who followed him. J.S. Bach may not have revolutionized musical forms, but he gave the musical world models to follow. His ceaseless creativity and tireless work ethic left a vast trove of music that is worthy of our continued appreciation.

    J.S. Bach's Most Famous Works

    • Toccata and Fugue in d Minor, for organ 1705
    • Cantata No.208 'Where Sheep May Safely Graze' 1713
    • Brandenburg Concertos 1721
    • The Well-Tempered Clavier, first book 1722
    • St. John Passion; Cantata No.147 (including 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring') 1723
    • Easter Oratorio, 1725
    • St. Matthew Passion, oratorio 1727
    • Suite No.3 in D (including 'Air on the G string') 1729
    • Magnificat in D major 1731
    • Christmas Oratorio 1734
    • Italian Concerto 1735
    • The Goldberg Variations 1741-42
    • The Well-Tempered Clavier, second book 1742
    • Musical Offering for Flute and Violin with Continuo 1747
    • Mass in B minor 1749