Happy Bachday

Today is Johann Sebastian Bach’s 328th birthday.  He was born on March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, in what is now Germany.  Today, Sirius XM marked the occasion by playing all Bach, all the time, on the Symphony Hall channel, and it made my commutes to and from work delightful indeed.

It isn’t difficult for Sirius to program all Bach for a 24-hour period, because Johann Sebastian was astonishingly prolific.  He wrote hymns, church music, concertos, cello suites, cantatas, and organ music, among other pieces.  He also was an accomplished organist who also played the harpsichord, the violin, and the viola.  His works helped to define the distinctive baroque style of music that prevailed in the early 1700s.  Interestingly, Bach’s works apparently fell out of favor after his death, and his compositions did not become highly regarded until the early 1800s.  Now, of course, he is generally regarded as one of the greatest composers in history, and his music is a staple of every classical radio station around the globe.

I love Bach’s pieces, and my iPod is filled with dozens of his compositions.  His works are so rich and expressive of a mood that it makes me wish I had met him to see whether his personality matched his music.  Bach’s compositions are vast and intricate, but at its core there is a certain radiating peacefulness.  If you’ve had a tough day and want to unwind and calm down, Bach is a good choice.  You can quickly get lost in his complex, intertwining melodies and the serenity that comes from well-ordered music that suggests a well-ordered world.

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Red Planet, White Rock, Deep Meaning

NASA’s Curiosity rover has once again excited scientists with some provocative discoveries about Mars.

Curiosity drove over a Martian rock and broke it open, exposing a dazzling white exterior.  The striking ivory color indicates the presence of hydrated minerals in the rock.  As any person who walks around with a water bottle knows, “hydration” requires water, and hydrated minerals are those that are formed when water is found.  Curiosity also has detected clay-type minerals in a different rock — another clue suggesting the presence of water at some point.  These discoveries are part of a growing body of evidence that running water once existed on this part of the surface of Mars.

On Earth, water seems to have been a crucial building block in whatever process, or outside force, first created life.  If water flowed on the Red Planet, the odds are increased that life once existed there — and may exist there still.  Although the surface of Mars is now a dusty red desert, it is possible that water and ice remain in rock formations deep below the Martian surface.  If so, life may be found there, because studies on Earth indicate that life, once established, is remarkably hardy.  The expedition to drill into a lake buried beneath a two-mile thick sheet of ice in Antartica, for example, recently uncovered life forms even in that dark, desolate, and inhospitable location.  Why should life on Mars be any less tenacious?

I’m of the Star Trek generation.  I believe that looking for — and especially finding — life beyond the confines of our home planet is a good way to get squabbling humans to recognize that their differences are minor and not worthy of much attention in the grand scheme of things.  We need to move beyond a mindset that focuses exclusively on our own fleeting creature comforts and recognize that we live in but one tiny, wayward corner of an unimaginably vast universe.  It’s been 40 years since humans walked on the Moon.  When will we take the next step, to Mars and beyond, to see whether life in fact may be found elsewhere?