Bach’s Saint John Passion epitomizes Easter for me. Accordingly, on Easter Day, I went looking for my recording of the work. Oh bother, it was on the external drive on which I had backed up my data before reimaging my machine. Never mind, since I had my hands on the keyboard I went hunting for a performance of the work. The first hit was Masaaki Suzuki conducting the Bach Collegium Japan. I clicked through and was, once again, swept up in the music.
I performed the Saint John Passion in the 1990’s when I sang with the Acadia Choral Society in Maine. The music, the comeraderie with the other performers, the sweet peace of the final chorus following the anguish of the crucifiction, the breathless moments between the release of the last note and the applause, all of it combined, a thrilling and deeply moving experience. A deeply moving, stricktly auditory, experience.
I’ve ben blind for over thirty years. Yeah, in those early days I tried, desperately and usually with catastrophic results, to use my 20 over 2000 vision to “see” what I was doing or where I was walking. I’ll never forget my orientation and mobility instructor saying, Keep your head up. Concentrate on what you can feel with your cane instead of what you can’t see with your eyes.” That was good advice and, eventually, I took it to heart. With the passage of the years I eventually gave up trying to use my vision. I was getting on with life and, although I occasionally caught a glimpse of this or that, I learned to just accept the visual input but not rely on it.
So, as I listened to the performance of the Saint John Passion, I just listened. Hang on, what was that? A flicker of movement caught my eye. Turning my admittedly limited visual attention to the screen I watched carefully. There it was again. The conductor, he/she appeared to have long light colored hair. I grabbed a screen shot and sent it to jim with the question, “Is this a dude or a dudette?” “Dude,” came his reply.
Armed with the knowledge that Suzuki was a guy, no idea why that seemed important but it was, I magnified the screen so that the video window occupied the entire screen. Then I started using my vision. I watched in amazement, as this dynamic and exciting conductor drew the music out of the performers. It wasn’t just the dramatic parts of the music that were exciting. I watched as Suzuki used his entire body to draw out the most nuanced bits of the music, the gentle release of the final notes, the subtlety of the repeated phrase, a little bit softer than the preceding phrase.
Adding the visual experience of this work to my purely auditory memories was a unique gift. Sitting right here in my chair in Alabama, some twenty years after performing this magnificent work, I was, quite literally, moved to tears as the visual experience informed and augmented my twenty year old memories.