I heard Bach’s “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring” (from Cantata 147) as part of the wedding music on Sunday night’s premiere of Downton Abbey, Season 3, as did several others of you, and I wanted to share an amazing experience we had with this piece. It was in 1996, and a bunch of us Hawaii organists were in New York City for a national convention of the American Guild of Organists. One of the events took place in Radio City Music Hall and was a presentation by Mary Lou Fallis, a singer from Toronto, Canada and considered one of Canada’a national treasures. She was dressed in period costume and played Mrs. Bach (Anna Magdalena), the second wife of Johann Sebastian Bach doing a call-in radio show. Someone called in to ask what she would recommend for wedding music, and she answered, “Oh I have the perfect piece for you! My husband, Sebastian, just composed a be–yoo–tiful piece and it goes like this:”
She only started to hum a few notes, and then spontaneously the whole assembly of more than 3000 organists joined in singing all the parts, soprano, alto, tenor, and bass — not just the chorale portion, but the instrumental as well. It was a totally “chicken-skin moment” (like we say in Hawaii) which went on for quite some time, until she made a giant cut-off gesture for everyone to stop. I think she was so surprised that the every person in the room could sing this famous melody and all its parts so completely — but then, don’t all organists know and love this piece?!
When I was playing weddings full-time for Japanese tourists every day (about a thousand weddings a year), Jesu, joy of man’s desiring was a piece I played every day, and I never got tired of it.