New York City’s classical music station, WQXR, is conducting a Bach marathon this week. It has been a source of inspiration as I go to sleep and wake to the incredible music of Johann Sebastian Bach. This internet radio station is eager to hear everyone’s Bach story.
As a young lad I was destined to take weekly piano lessons. My parents were determined that their children were going to learn music. Our growing family of 7 children traveled from the hinterland of Alberta’s vast prairie to the “big” city of Camrose, which had a population of 5,000 and was 45 miles away, to take those dreaded piano lessons. A Canadian winter never seemed to stop us either. I remember the highway having a thick coat of ice on it, to the point where one could hardly stand up, let alone walk. It was a good thing that most prairie highways were straight and that we had studs in our winter tires. We were prepared for the worst blizzard that an Alberta clipper could bring in order to learn how to play a piano.
Mrs. Bakken exuded music. She was the accomplished sister of one of those saints in our church who could be heard singing above the whole congregation and always gave a word of encouragement to others. My older brother had started piano lessons when the Bakkens lived on their farm many miles away, but they eventually sold their farm and moved to the city. Form was important to Mrs. Bakken, and I had to do finger and hand exercises to make sure my fingers would “step high” on the piano keyboard. I had a tendency to exert too much force into my playing and she would sometimes demonstate the right touch by running her fingers up and down my forearm. My arms couldn’t flap either, so she made me hold scribblers under both arms to keep them close to my sides. Everything had to be played to the steady beat of the metronome. I had to take theory and prepare for the feared itinerant music examiner who came out from the Royal Conservatory of Music to conduct the annual piano and theory exams.
The biggest inspiration for me was attempting to complete a book of Bach’s music. Mrs. Bakken promised me a Bach figurine when I finished all the pieces in this daunting first book of Bach’s piano music. I remember some interesting notes written above the pieces telling short stories about Bach or with some short poetic phrases from the lyrics. Unfortunately I never got the coveted figurine as my music teacher had to quit teaching when she experienced overload from struggling with a rebellious teenage son at that time. The impact of Mrs. Bakken, however, lives on in me today and I remember her best for putting her heart and soul into her piano students and for her love of Bach. By the way, I still have that tattered and taped music book of Bach’s piano music!