I am a Magpie
“I am such a magpie”, my British friend always says. She isn’t an obnoxious talker, as the phrase sometimes implies. She is refined and careful in speech, but she does embody another definition of the phrase–one who collects indiscriminately. She loves beautiful things: clothes, jewelry, flowers, scents, bags, decorating…
She notices beauty and is quick to inquire about it, wanting to learn where to buy or find something, or learn more about it. In the process, she collects advice, ideas, hopes, plans, and new ways of thinking. I realize in this regard, I, too, am a magpie. The more I study of the violin in practice and in literature, in history and in recordings, the more I want to know.
I introduced my 12-year-old son’s piano hands to Bach inventions this week and couldn’t help but pour over the photographs of the original transcripts Bach had written to go with his composition. There was a treatise on trills that caught my eye as I was curious about how these would apply to the Bach sonatas and partitas I have so reverently been resurrecting in my own practice. In the short burst of time I got to pursue my latest inquiry, I quickly scanned the original transcripts of the Bach Sonata No. 1 looking for anything applicable but was interrupted but my toddler (Note: the Bach sonatas and partitas were finished in 1720, while this transcript of the keyboard inventions is dated 1723). Working in such short bursts can bring a constant state of anxiety if I am not careful. I never get to really finish anything! Any thought, any task. I want to discover every nook and cranny of knowledge on a new, and shiny, path of information only to be halted right before an important vista of discovery. But, it’s also okay. I’ve learned, and am learning, that being a magpie means I can learn in short bursts, and these small packets of knowledge are helpful to me as I continue pushing through plateaus and finding new capacities in my playing.
I enjoy collecting this knowledge indiscriminately. I imagine myself traveling on this alternate violinist path with a large satchel, able to gather any tidbit along the way that adds to the whole of my being. I believe intelligence is the one thing I will get to take with me when I leave this life. I intend on gathering as much as I can, trusting that as I reach a vista with some time to enjoy it (not interrupted by outside distractions) I will be able to sort through all this knowledge, interesting facts and stories, and histories, and see the beautiful whole of it. I’ll feel the sum of its application and see how carrying it all along has affected and shaped me.
Until I get that time to examine it more fully, perhaps someone somewhere, seeing these pictures of Bach’s writings will be able to draw their own conclusions applicable to their practice and understanding.
To close, here is this nugget I enjoyed reading past my bedtime last night:
Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714-1788) (Bach’s son) recalled his father’s playing, “In his youth and until the approach of old age, he played the violin cleanly and penetratingly, and thus kept the orchestra in better order than he could have done with the harpsichord. He understood to perfection the possibilities of all stringed instruments. This is evidenced by his solos for the violin and for the violoncello without bass. One of the greatest violinists once told me that he had seen nothing more perfect for learning to be a good violinist, and could suggest nothing better to anyone eager to learn, than the said violin solos without bass.”(Quoted from John Mangum, LA Philharmonic Association Program Designer/Annotator.)
I am “eager to learn”.