Skip to main content

What Makes Bach a Musical Genius?

I was sitting in my music appreciation class the other day. Since we are studying the Baroque period, the teacher showed us a short film on the life of Bach. The film was one of those typical history documentaries: lots of British narration interspersed with commentary from experts in various fields.

One thing I've noticed is that people (myself included) always assume Bach's genius. In the film I watched in class, both a neuroscientist and a psychologist spoke in-depth about the brilliance of Bach and how this may be attributed to the musical centers in his brain being slightly larger than average.

At this point I had to pause and think: why do we assume this man is a genius? I've heard that enlarged brain story and I don't buy it. Every single musician has enlarged music centers in their brain. Cat scans and research have proven that (see Oliver Sacks). Was it his amazing output of music? Bach came from a musical family. His composition efforts were encouraged from an early age. Later on, it was his job to write a certain number of new pieces each week. Maybe it's the way his music sounds? There is something universally appealing about Bach's music. It is pleasing to the ear. In many ways, Bach is not unlike today's movie score composers; he wrote to appease his audiences.

Now I'm not trying to take Bach down a peg. I love his works and there is no doubt as to his skill on the organ. It's just interesting to me how history treats certain characters. Unlike Beethoven, Bach never tried to break social norms with his music or raise art music to new levels. Here is this guy who, it could be argued, was just doing his job (which he could do well) and trying to pay the bills in composing while having a little fun on the side. 200 years later we're examining his skull trying to figure out if genetic abnormalities led to his success as a composer.


Popular posts from this blog

The Private Teaching Business Model

Over my years of teaching I've come across a wide variety of interpretations about the private teaching business model.  I feel that this is a natural result of the type of society we live in.  Many services these days are either "subscriptions" or "appointments."  For example, a gym membership is a subscription.  You pay a monthly fee to use the facility at any time during their hours of operation.  A doctor's visit or a haircut is an "appointment."  You call ahead to set up a time, you show up and then pay after the services have concluded.

With most services falling into one of these two categories, most people try to rationalize music lessons as one or the other.  However, music lessons are neither subscriptions or appointments.  They are actually a combination of both if the business entity is going to be successful.

The reasons why this hybrid business model occurs are:

1)  The service itself is centered around personal attention (appointmen…

Music as a Language: Victor Wooten at TEDxGabriolaIsland

Victor Wooten is an innovator, composer, arranger, producer, vocalist, and multiinstrumentalist. He has been called the greatest bass player in the world. He is a skilled naturalist and teacher, a published author, a magician, husband and father of four, and a five-time Grammy award winner.

Performance Anxiety Part 1

My husband and I both love disc golf.  It's something that we both started together as beginners together so it became "our" thing to do as a couple.  We eventually got to the point after playing for a few years that I wanted to attempt playing in a disc golf tournament.  He was a bit more hesitant than me but I insisted, arguing that it would be a fun way to really test our skills.

I've written a few posts before about how playing disc golf taught me the value of muscle memory.  But during our first few tournaments we both quickly discovered a whole new category of unexplored skills: performing under pressure.  To be blunt, we both stunk.

As a musician, I was no stranger to performing.  I've lost count of how many solo/orchestra/chamber performances I've done.  Before that first tournament I had assumed that performance anxiety wouldn't affect me because of said experience.  I was just going out there to have fun, right?

Well, I was.  But the thing I had…