Bach Vespers: Behind the scenes

The music of Johann Sebastian Bach has become Carl's life work.

The music of Johann Sebastian Bach has become Carl's life work.

We do so many things on “automatic pilot” that when you stop and think about it, what goes into a service like our upcoming Bach Vespers on February 20th takes a heap of preparation.

1. It begins usually, with Carl ordering a CD recording. Carl’s favorite group to sing the Bach cantatas is the Bach Collegium Japan, conducted by Masaaki Suzuki who has set out to record all the extant Bach cantatas. We in fact will be going to hear this group on their American tour in March, where they will perform Bach’s B minor Mass in Valporaiso, Indiana.

2. Next, he orders the music, usually from Cliff Hill Music, in Ohio, who was a classmate of mine from Westminster Choir College days. Cliff has the scores and instrumental parts sent directly from Bärenreiter publishers in Germany.

3. Carl next contacts Anna Womack, who is our contractor for instrumentalists, and lets her know how many violins, oboes, flutes, etc. he needs for a performance. In a Vesper service, the instrumentalists not only play the Cantata and the Magnificat, but also accompany all the hymns. Carl next types a written contract for each instrumentalist, spelling out the rehearsal and performance schedule. These contracts are distributed, signed and collected at the dress rehearsal.

4. Undoubtedly, there will be vocal soloists, so Carl contacts them individually and gives them the music and a recording to help them learn the music. Most often, he schedules a separate rehearsal with each soloist to check for tempos, any problems with the language, musical interpretation, etc.

5. Carl then starts writing program notes about the works to be performed, and starts typing German texts and translations. Frequently he gives the printouts to Vreni Griffith to proof and check for mistakes in the German.

6. All this time he listens to the recording numerous times with the score, in order to be prepared for the rehearsals. If he has a vocal solo himself or plays the harpsichord, he needs to practice on his own to learn the music.

7. I design a postcard to be sent to our “Music” mailing list: people who have asked to be notified about our musical events (about 700 names). I send the finished Photoshop file to the printshop, located in California, by uploading it to their FTP site. The process usually takes about ten days before the finished postcards arrive. Each time, I must fill out a form with the security desk in our condo to have them sign for the package.

8. Frequently at these Bach Vespers, there is concerted organ music to be played for the Prelude and Postlude. Carl generally has a suggestion about what piece of Bach he wants me to play, so I pull the music from the library and start practicing it.

9. When Carl has decided what hymns and psalms are to be sung, he assigns Allen Bauchle to write out and duplicate parts for the instrumentalists. There are generally three hymns and two to three psalms for each Vespers service, all accompanied with organ and instruments. Carl decides which verses are to be played by certain instruments.

10. I write up a press release and email it to key people in the media, usually ten days before the event. I also email a notice to the American Guild of Organists mailing list since I am in charge of publicity for them. Undoubtedly, I’ll write several blog posts about the event, trying to look at different aspects of the performance. Then I’ll post the blog to my FaceBook page. A notice goes into the “Announcements” flyer of the Sunday bulletin. Carol Langner sets up a display on the courtyard bulletin board.

11. When the postcards have arrived, I ask the church office for a set of mailing labels. I’ll bring the postcards and labels to rehearsal and give them to Vreni for affixing labels and taking to bulk mail at the airport post office.

12. By now, Carl has finished typing the program notes, so he gives it to me for final layout in booklet form before sending it to a local printshop. I email it to them for duplication and then drive out to Aiea to pick up the finished booklets.

13. One or two choral rehearsals of the music take place on our regular Thursday night practice. Our one and only dress rehearsal with the orchestra is usually the day or two days before the performance.

14. We notify the Hospitality Committee about our event, and ask the choir to bring cookies and other food for refreshments. Many times we are at Costco on Sunday afternoon, buying fixings for the punch.

Finally, we open the doors and the music begins, just like clockwork.  This will be the 70th Bach Cantata we’ve done with orchestra since 1973.

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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