Zen for Ten 7: A dose of sun

Today’s features: Sonata in B flat Major and Sonata in D Major, by Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)

Welcome back! Today’s video highlights two of my favorite short pieces by Italian Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti.

About the music:

When we think about the word “Sonata,” we usually think about a long piece of music, often divided into different sections or movements. Scarlatti’s pieces don’t fit into that pattern. During his lifetime, the word “sonata” didn’t refer to any particular musical form or structure. It came from the Italian suonare, meaning “to play” or “to sound,” and composers saw it as an invitation to write whatever they wanted. In Scarlatti’s case, he borrowed from popular dances of his time – minuets, gavottes, gigues – to create little musical gems.

As you listen to today’s pieces, you can hear how dance music inspired them both. They’re light and joyful, fun to play and listen to. In last week’s blog post I talked about why the world needs artists, especially during the hardest times; in today’s post I’m thinking about sending some beauty and cheerfulness out into the world. Scarlatti’s music is a dose of sunlight. Please enjoy and share!

Thought exercise:

This part of the blog will be back soon.

Blog Subscriber Bonus! When you subscribe to the blog and join our email list, you’ll receive a PDF of my flash-fiction story “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” which I wrote in response to Charles Mingus’s jazz tune of the same name. Subscribe (using the black button on the right), read the story, and then listen here to the music that inspired it.



Zen for Ten 6: The world needs each one of us

Today’s features: Sonata Op. 13 “Pathetique,” mvt. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven; Prelude no. 2 by George Gershwin

This week I’m breaking the blog’s pattern. Last night was the end of our long and difficult presidential election cycle here in the US. It’s an intense time full of intense feelings.

I woke up this morning thinking about how politicians and political cycles come and go, but it’s the rest of us, the people of this country, who live together, who talk to each other, who share the same space. We decide, more than anyone else, what kind of climate we live in. We decide how to treat one another.

Sometimes those of us who work as artists feel marginalized or discouraged. Our work often looks like a luxury. You have to have food, but you don’t have to have music, or paintings, or books.

Today I say we do need all of those things. We need them to keep us human. We need them to help us connect with each other. Right now, in the wake of a long and incredibly divisive time in this country, we need them more than ever, as we look ahead to tomorrow and the coming weeks and years.

Wherever you are, whoever you voted for, today I send this music out to you. Today, tomorrow, and always, the world needs art. It needs beauty. It needs peace. It always has, and it always will, and each and every one of us can help to keep those essentials alive.

If this music gave you something today, please SHARE this post.

Zen for Ten 5: Want to change the world? Start here.

Blog Subscriber Bonus! When you subscribe to the blog and join our email list, you’ll receive a PDF of my flash-fiction story “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” which I wrote in response to Charles Mingus’s jazz tune of the same name. Subscribe (using the black button on the right), read the story, and then listen here to the music that inspired it.


Welcome back! Today we’re continuing last week’s conversation about Why Classical Music Matters, and continuing our feature of Johannes Brahms. Be sure to check out the notes below!

Today’s feature: Intermezzo in E Major, Op. 116 no. 6, by Johannes Brahms

About the music:

In last week’s post, I talked about how Brahms felt when he became famous as a young man: how hard it was for him, as a shy and introverted person, to deal with the weight of his own reputation.

Brahms was a pianist, first and foremost, even though he wrote for many other instruments too. I love the fact that with his late-period piano works, like today’s featured piece and last week’s, we get to see him sitting at the instrument that was home for him, writing music that comes straight from his core. As we listen to this music, we can hear how much emotion went into writing it. We can hear how a shy person, someone who had to hide sometimes from a world that was always watching him, could release his truest feelings when he played.

If you’re a musician, sometimes your instrument is your best friend. Plenty of times, when I didn’t know how to express or let out what I was feeling, I’ve sat down at the piano and talked to it through music. You can have a wonderful feeling of connection with the instrument you’re playing. Sometimes you can even imagine that this man-made object has its own soul: it’s easy to believe that.

So I love to imagine Brahms sitting at his piano, talking to it the way you would talk to your closest friend, who knows you almost as well as you know yourself. And it’s through this image that I think we can really experience what classical music has to offer us.

We live in a fractured world. Here in the US, as we come up on election day, we can see the divisions between us more clearly than ever. Our beliefs – religious, political, social, etc. – create chasms between us. They seem frighteningly, impassably huge, and that’s just between people who live in the same country and have a common language. When we think about that, we can wonder how we’re supposed to connect or try to relate to people from other parts of the world, people so totally different from ourselves.

This is where I think the music of Brahms, and others like him, can give us hope. Here we have wordless communication. We have a composer who’s gone, but his thoughts and feelings can still reach us and call to us across boundaries of time and distance. Brahms was German; I don’t speak German, so even if I could meet him, we wouldn’t be able to communicate in words. But we can understand each other through music, his heart and mind speaking to mine.

So let’s take this music out and share it. We have more common ground than we think, and this music gives us a place to start.

Brahms, J. c. & the Red Hedgehog. German composer. On the way to the Red Hedgehog by Otto Bohler. 'Johannes Brahms auf dem Wege zum 'roten Igel'.

Brahms’s favorite pub in Vienna was the Red Hedgehog. Here we see him with its mascot (image from Tumblr).

Thought exercise/Challenge:

If you liked today’s piece, share it with someone else, especially someone who may not listen to much classical music or know much about it. Let it start a conversation. If you’d like to tell me about that experience, send me an email at kris@krisfaatz.com, for possible feature here on the blog.