Friday, March 6, 2009

More WTC and Dies Sind

This Sunday's preludes both hail from the root of our Lutheran musical traditions. First, I'm continuing with my Lenten presentation of selections from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, this time the c minor from his second book. I'll be playing it on the piano instead of the harpsichord, and I'm hopeful that it will make the fugue structure even clearer.

Second, I'll be playing a setting of Luther's hymn of the 10 commandments. Most of you will know that we're singing it on Wednesday nights, and I'll be echoing that melody in the prelude on Sunday morning. The hymn may be unfamiliar now, but it will be returned to its rightful place in our congregation's musical canon by our repetition of it this spring.

Incidentally, I read a brief snippet this week that claimed Bach's later career was "Christianity's gain's loss." The author lamented that Bach was not free to explore all of the musical forms and instruments that were becoming known in his later years. I can't help but disagree and argue that a man who wrote "Soli deo gloria" on so many manuscripts was too devout ever to view his years as a church musician as negative for his musical career.

How do you feel about Bach and his music in the church today? Should we hear more of it? Should we move on to a more contemporary sound? Should we strive for balance? I tend to fall into the latter camp, and I hope you're enjoying the WTC series for Lent!


  1. Hello Tom, Cassie and members of Bethany. I wish you peace and that you would look for and feel the presence of God around you as go about your day.

    Thank you Cassie for directing our Choir and Tom for your wonderful preludes and accompaniment. A special thanks for accompanying me with the Psalmody yesterday.

    What I love most about singing in the choir is learning beautiful Christian music that stays “in my head” through the week. I hum the anthems at work and I sing in my car. More often than worrying through the night, I am lulled back to sleep by lyrics and music
    such as, “Lord, I Ask a Blessing,” and the Psalm “….remember and turn to the Lord.”

    I agree that a mix of styles of music is the best way to reach all ages and to preserve the rich history of music in the Lutheran Church. I agree that to a certain extent that Latin expressions should be preserved; a foreign native language and history should not be forgotten. However, I like to think that the anthems that we in the choir have spent so much time learning and practicing, (and yes, occasionally stressing out about), would be a melody and lyric that our members and visitors can keep in their head and sing to themselves, continuing in their worship throughout their days and nights as I do.

    My personal taste remains more on the contemporary side. It seems to uplift the congregation more. I’m not referring to that occasional applause, which while unnecessary and may be considered out of place, speaks to me as a response that someone has been truly moved by what we have sung. Yes, Amen, or possibly, “That’s what I like to hear!” I sense it; I see it in the member’s faces as they come to the Communion rail. I feel a stronger presence of Jesus. I know that I have sung in a language and style that adults, teens, youth and children will understand. I consider the music that our children listen to these days, and hope that for one minute they might recall that cool song that the Choir sang in church!

    I prefer familiar hymns, like a catchy tune on the radio that stays with us and pops in and out throughout the day filling our minds and hearts with Jesus. I understand that there are many new beautiful hymns to be sung, and once we struggle through the first verse or two we will eventually catch on. Once finished, the hymn is lost, at least on me. I think I am alone in my thoughts on this matter, because I have been mentioning it for 27 years at Bethany. (Yes, I know I should join express my likes and dislikes at the Hymn Selection or Worship and Music Committee.)

    In the end, my goal is to enhance the worship service, singing praises to my God for His unending love for me, with thanksgiving for all that he has done for me and will do and for my family; and in prayer for friends and strangers, and those who are sick or in need. I turn to God a million times in my days and nights for direction and my life is so much better when I follow His lead. I love to sing and I will sing to Him until I die. Music is a prayer, and my “style” is not the most important issue. Am I so vain as to think that my way to pray is better than someone else’s?

  2. I find that there times when I appreciate many varieties of music, and can usually make room for most. Bach is intriguing and cerebral as well as beautiful, but then sometimes a simple folk tune like "Let Us Break Bread Together" seems to say things just right. And, while not usually a fan of country, "My Friend is the King of All Kings" by Red Foley says special things to me as well.

    So, a nice mix of the old with some new that will one day be old works best for me - a little like the people sitting around me.

  3. Musically, I tend to agree with Duke Ellington’s (and Peter Schickele's)maxim that “if it sounds good, it is good”. Classical or contemporary? It really doesn''t matter, so long as it sounds good and it matches the mood or style of the worship service.

  4. Today (March 11) on Composers Datebook the story was how Felix Mendelssohn performed J.S. Bach's "St. Matthew's Passion" on this date in 1829. "The Passion" had not been performed for almost 100 years because it was considered too "old fashioned", "mathmatical" and "out of touch" with current musical tastes. Several folks tried to talk Mendelssohn out of "wasting his time" with Bach.

    However, the performance was so well received that Mendelssohn performed it again 10 days later, and it sparked a revival in Bach's music.

    It is amazing to me that if Mendelssohn had not been persistent in performing Bach's "Passion", then it, along with other wonderful works of Bach, might have been lost to us forever.

    I wonder how much of the "popular" music of Mendelssohn's day is still being performed even though it was considered by the people of his time to be so much more "catchy", "uplifting", and "heart-felt" than the music of Bach.