I started this blog with the intention of documenting my efforts to rehab from the cognitive and physical deficits stemming from my craniotomy, and a major aspect has been working on learning guitar. Music has several key virtues for this sort of rehabilitative process: it requires attention, focus, memory, planning, and a great deal of fine motor skills, especially on my (weaker) left side. It also helps resolve a major item on my lifetime “to-do” list, whose successful resolution suddenly became urgent last month.
It has been a month since I returned home from the rehab hospital, so it’s a good time to provide an update on how the music stuff is going. I haven’t made it far, but in my defense, this is really hard, and I still have some stamina and coordination issues to deal with. I’m also under strict orders from my speech therapist to avoid frustration, as it will set back the overall cognitive rehab process. So, I can’t plow forward with the same single-mindedness one might typically expect from me.
Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello
I know that the guitar doesn’t have the same voice or authority as the cello, but all the same, I’ve set myself towards learning to play Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello on the guitar. These pieces were written between 1717 and 1723, they were lost to the world for hundreds of years and then rediscovered around the turn of the last century, In my humble opinion, they’re absolutely gorgeous. An interesting aside: some scholars contend that Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach, may have written the entire set. Having a wife who is unquestionably my better half, and who regularly tidies up the mistakes I make on blog posts, manuscripts, grant submissions, lectures, etc., I am sympathetic to this theory.
Naturally, I’m starting with the Prelude to Suite 1 in G major. Around our house, we call this the Galapagos Suite (hat tip to my Chair, Patty Parker, who is basically a knight of the Galapagos islands), since it’s played during in the scene where the HMS Surprise raises the Galapagos Islands in Master and Commander, one of our favorite movies of all time. Editorial aside: Master and Commander is based on the Aubrey / Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brien, which I absolutely adore. And, although they spent > 200 million dollars making the movie precisely accurate to the books and the historical era, the cello suite is played by Yo-Yo Ma, the greatest cellist of a generation, while Stephen Maturin, the cellist in the books, is emphatically a mere average player, even before his hands are tortured by French intelligence agents. I raise this point because sometimes my hands behave like they’ve been tortured by French intelligence agents.
I’ve settled into a routine where I use the first two movements (Prelude and Allemande) of this cello suite as the background for my meditations and visualization exercises. The opening phrases of Prelude are so lovely and soothing, they help me settle into the relaxation exercise. Toward the end, there is a chromatic scale that I use to visualize all of my white blood cells breaking like a wave over any residual tumor cells left behind by the surgery. Then, there’s a gorgeous concluding G-major chord that resolves the piece. It’s very easy to use that as an imagery of being well again and participating fully in life’s delights, with all this cancer nonsense in the rear-view mirror.
An earlier post discussed how easily I am irritated by repetitive, obnoxious sounds these days, whether due to the medications or a consequence of surgery, and one of my friends and colleagues commented that she would also like to know a method to shut these things out. Bach is perfect for this purpose. It has the great virtue of being ignorable. Keep in mind, this is NOT a virtue in visual art or writing or performance art, but for music, there is great value in being able to fade into the background occasionally. A continuous loop of Led Zeppelin’s infinitely tedious Kashmir is a close approximation of the fiery pits of hell. On the other hand, IF you choose to pay close attention to Bach, it is never tedious, and it will reward your study. When presented with obnoxious auditory stimuli, my recommendation is to first drown it out with something nourishing, and if that fails, play it in your head louder. The first eight phrases of the Prelude are perfect for this purpose.
Nearby is a video of me playing this first part of Prelude, then skipping ahead to the climax.
I know it’s halting and laborious, but please keep in mind that I have no talent or training, and I’m rehabbing from serious brain trauma. In any case, it’s recognizably Bach. Which pleases me enormously since it’s only been about a month since I came home. As always, there’s a long way to go… this represents about 20% of the entire Prelude, which is itself only 1/6 of cello suite 1, which is of course, only one of the six cello suites. For what it’s worth, my mind feels sharper and more alert after practicing music, and I’d love to know how preincubation with Bach will affect my Lumocity performance index. More on that later.