Before we had the tuning system that makes up much of the music we love today, music was largely based on a very different system; one that would render our favorite songs completely unrecognizable. Historically, instruments were tuned using meantone temperament, a system of tuning that emphasized certain intervals (the space between two pitches) and chords (groups of intervals) at the expense of others. The most extreme of the latter intervals were called wolf intervals, and were often avoided due to the unpleasant dissonance they produced. This changed with the development of new tuning systems that worked around these problematic intervals by shifting the in-tune intervals so that they are slightly out of tune, making those problematic intervals less noticeable. Taking advantage of this new approach to tuning, the great baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach wrote two volumes of music, collectively called the Well Tempered Clavier, in which he demonstrated just how well these wolves could be tamed.
My name is Hector Ibarra, and I’m a totally blind musician who has made it a life goal to memorize and perform Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. The inspiration for such a goal came during a difficult point in my life, and it quickly and easily made it to the top of the bucket list of experiences I knew would make pushing through this period worth doing. Like others in a similar situation may turn toward an experience like completing a marathon, I saw it worthwhile to aim for completing a musical marathon instead, and face some of my personal wolves while doing so. I invite you to join me on this journey, and hope you’ll enjoy it (and the detours) as much as I do!