Arts, Culture & Media

2016 was rough. Listening to Bach helped.

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Anthony Inglis conducts the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Australian Air Force Band at the Classical Specatular 2005 in the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia.

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Fir0002/Flagstaffotos/Wikimedia Commons

2016 has been tough for a lot of people. Especially in the news business — there's been a lot of breaking and heartbreaking news this year.

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About a month ago I read a column by Joan Wickersham in The Boston Globe. It had the intriguing title, "Looking for Structure and Order? Listen to Bach." 

Now, I'm not a classical music aficionado, but I do like Bach. I like structure. And I guess you could say I'm a bit orderly too. So, I took Wickersham's question to heart and followed her suggestion. And I went one step further.

Wickersham lives in Cambridge, across the river from The World's studios in Boston, so I asked her to come in and listen with me. Wickersham suggested we play Bach's Mass in B Minor. And as she says in the piece, Bach's music "has a kind of gravity to it. As well as a grace and an optimism."

It's believed that Bach completed Mass in B Minor during the last years of his life. He died in 1750. And I recently came across an essay by the Aylesbury Choral Society, which states: "What is most remarkable about the overall shape of the Mass in B Minor is the fact that Bach managed to shape a coherent sequence of movements from diverse material, whether he intended it or not."

Wickersham believes "Bach has an underlying structure and order that is very reassuring in disordered times." And I can see why she chose this particular piece of music.

Classical music — in fact, most music — provides sustenance and adds meaning to life. For Wickersham, Bach is the "counterweight to the ugliness of what's been happening recently."

Yeah, 2016 has been a rough year. It seems that the whole world is in a state of weltschmerzen. But as a new year begins, I hope we'll all be able to tap into the things that give us hope, strength and meaning.

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Joan Wickersham's most recent book of fiction is "The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story." Her memoir, "The Suicide Index," was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her op-ed column appears regularly in The Boston Globe.