Bach’s six suites for solo cello have become a touchstone for me. I like hearing Yo-Yo Ma talk about them almost as much as I like listening to him play them—for steadiness, solace, and strength. He has been playing them since he was 4 years old.
If I had started playing something on the cello when I was 4 years old, I wonder how good (or bad) I would be at it by now. How well I’d play it misses the point, though, which is that I wish I had that kind of relationship with a body of music, that I could call on and draw from at will. I think perhaps knitting is the thing that most closely approximates that kind of steady, call-and-response relationship in my life. I know that if I sit down with my knitting for a bit, something good will happen between us. I also feel this way about choral singing, when I’m lucky enough to be in a regular group. I feel the roots of life’s goodness when I am orienteering my way along the alto line surrounded by other voices, especially familiar ones.
At the NPR Tiny Desk Concert linked above, Yo-Yo Ma played the Prelude to Suite No. 1, the Sarabande from Suite No. 6, and the Gigue from Suite No. 3. This was in 2018, at the beginning of his Bach Project, a series of concerts and events that connects this very particular 18th-century music to the deep, wide cultural impulses that connect people all over the world, including making things with our hands. (Here’s a lovely short video that seems related to the project, which still has two future dates on the calendar.)
The Sarabande really got me.
Go on and listen.