Fred Everett Maus: Listening to Bach, Three Days after a Shooting
Tenderness, a reminder of how people can be together.
Tranquility, no fear of bad surprises.
This music could be melancholy or not. I hear peace—
and the words “the peace of death” pop into my mind,
where did that come from?
Now in the word “pop” I hear a gunshot. The rawness of these days.
The music slows my body. Steady bass below spiraling melody.
Movement is on the surface, rippling atop stillness.
Gentle stroking, caresses, “There, there.”
Music that wants to take care of you.
In front of the Music building,
many small candles, flowers scattered among them.
Today it is satisfying just to put words down,
to write one after another,
a complete thought before moving on to the next words.
Controlling some little thing in a harmless way
in a chaotic world full of power that is used to harm.
Little words, like little candles lined up, beauty, fragility.
It’s quiet in the room where I am writing.
Bright afternoon sun flows in, oblique,
glorious light in these days of mourning,
perfection pouring down on a shattered world.
[J. S. Bach, Air, from Orchestral Suite No. 3, as performed by Le Concert de Nations, conducted by Jordi Savall. Listening on November 16, 2022.]
Copyright 2022 Fred Everett Maus
Fred Everett Maus is a professor of music at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
On Sunday November 13, a student opened fire on a bus returning from a trip to Washington, DC, where the class had seen a play, killing three of his classmates. A shooter opened fire at a Walmart Supercenter in Virginia on Tuesday, November 22, 2022, leaving six people dead and four hospitalized in the third high-profile mass killing in a handful of days. A few days before, a gunman had killed 5 people at an LGBTQ bar in Colorado Springs.
“Music that wants to take care of you.” I ran with this in an Oliver Sacks sort of way upon my fifth and final release from prison, although I had no clue who Oliver Sacks was at the time. I only knew intuitively that music was not just healing, but so too filling–as in filling the receptors left so achingly empty by a long-term withdrawal from heroin. At this point in my life I was wired on higher education, and it was music that brought me down, a sort of Narcan for the neurons.
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And now I rarely play the music. To do so would use the hearing I have left and I need to be aware of my surroundings which is why I need the music
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