Monday, January 18, 2010

A paean to Bach

During my holiday break, I finally started to catch up on reading the pile of books that had accumulated on my bedside table. Among them was the excellent novel Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby. One of my favorite passages is the narrator's praise of Bach's music:

"...when the music fills the air, it is as if God himself has entered the concert hall. Forget all those sermons the ministers used to go on at length about week after week, trying to hammer the word of God and make it stick. If there is a God, this is how he communicates. Through music. And if there is a vehicle through which God speaks best, it is Johann Sebastian Bach."

In the past 250 years of enjoying Bach's music, many people have agreed that his genius communicates the essence of our faith. But I also had the time on my break to rediscover the joy of a variety of music on my ipod. Many composers and styles speak to us, and sometimes the most powerful and memorable music simply depends on our mood and state of mind. What composers, hymns, and songs speak most directly to you?


  1. Paean: That's a good $10 word. :) Hopefully we don't have anyone with hellenologophobia out there.

    Recently, Morten Lauridsen's works speak to me. Lush harmonies, counterpoint, and beautiful melodies -

  2. it may not be sophisticated but amy grant sings with melodies and words that can say more to us today than a lot of classical music. bach can't always be appreciated or udnerstood without training so what good is it then?

  3. I'm sure that Bach's parishioners at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig weren't "trained." I'm also sure that parishioners at countless churches throughout the world where his and his equals' music are held up as a standard of quality, aren't trained. The good of the music is that it challenges us to grow past what we already understand and appreciate.

  4. Although many people today find that the music of Amy Grant speaks to them, I doubt that 250 years from now her music will still be played and sung, but I'm sure Bach's will still be. I've had very little musical "training" (three years of learning to play (badly) the Stringed Bass in Middle School is all I've got), and yet I've listened to and appreciated the music of Bach since I was about 8 years old.

    I don't think it is an either/or choice, but being able to appreciate them both. Why do we only want to limit ourselves to what may be "popular" today, but tomorrow is forgotten, when we can listen to music (and expose our children to music) that reflects a tremendous range of emotion, understanding, and faith and has endured the test of time?

  5. I think you were correct, Tom, that an eclectic approach to music is quite rewarding. I would also "plug" the St. Olaf choir here, as they will perform a nice variety of music on their tour. There not that many a capella groups left!