A Translation

Christmas has come early this year, because there is nothing else to do. We’re listening to carols, and the same songs seem to be sung by everyone. My husband especially knows all the crooners. Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Gene Autry, the old school voices that sound like Christmas.

They sing their version of the same songs.

But right now, I’m obsessed with some music by Bach. He wrote these Cello suites—at least we think he did—that only survive because of some music that one of his students saved a copy of. His wife had a copy too, and they were preserved.

Cello Music. Very sonorous and beautiful. Cello is a sparse music, because it is a melody line only. You can’t play five notes at once on a cello. Two notes can be done, and that’s about it.

That’s how cellos work.

I play keyboard, and I can play the piano. The piano is percussive, so I have to hit the key to make the noise. Bless that sustain pedal, I can get a soup of resonance going when I push the pedal. But I have to hit the keys.

Unlike the cello I can hit a lot of keys at the same time. I usually have an octave on the left and a chord on the right, and I’m rushing on to hit more keys to keep it going.
When I play an organ, it’s different because I can sustain the note by holding it down. It keeps singing. Not like the thin soup of the piano sustain pedal, the organ gives full voice to every key pressed. And there are so many keys to press! TWO keyboards, AND the foot pedals.

Organs have so much going on. No wonder they are the only instrument in a lot of churches. They can fill a room easy.

Pianos fill it up too, but it’s John Henry work to pound it out.

One cello in an auditorium—well, it could be loud enough but everybody better be quiet and listen. There is only the one melody to listen to. The empty space comes with.

Pay attention. It’s as plain as a vase on glass table. It’s right there.

The performance I am listening to is by Eleonor Bindman. She is a pianist and she taught her piano to speak cello.

I don’t think a cello could speak piano, and it certainly could not speak organ.

But Bindman taught herself to speak cello on the piano by translating the Bach music into something she could play on piano. It’s so different, so arresting. I can’t stop listening to it.

I am wondering what small changes I could make to lift up familiar things I’ve grown tired of.

Art can be as simple as trying things in a new way. If it is good to begin with, cleaning it off with a little twist will only make it better.

How many new Christmas albums do exactly that? And I can do the same.

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