During Lent, many people give up small luxuries such as chocolate or desserts as a form of penitence. The 40 days before Easter are supposed to be spent in prayer or fasting. Well, I have my own way of penitence — getting up every morning to practice the organ, specifically the Great Eighteen Chorales (also called the Leipzig Chorales) of Johann Sebastian Bach. This is what I’ve been doing instead of walking 2-1/2 miles with my husband every morning down Ala Moana Boulevard! (I just walk my 2-1/2 miles on the pedalboard!) My goal is to be at the organ by 6:00 am before I play for morning chapel at Iolani School at 7:45. On Wednesdays, though, I don’t have to play for chapel and had the leisure today of practicing for over two hours before going to work.
Why am I doing this? To give myself something to do is obvious, and in order to learn all these pieces is going to take a lot of time, patience, and practice. But the nature of Bach’s music, and these pieces specifically, are indeed prayerful. I hope to present these works in a concert eventually —not to show off! but to share this wonderful, spiritual music with our community. . . to take people on a journey to another place.
In thinking about this collection of extended chorale preludes, I think it is quite possibly the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken, or at least, the biggest project I’ve done in a long time. The last time I did something of this magnitude was when I gave an all-memorized Bach recital when my son was a toddler. Back then, my goal was to start practicing every morning by 5 am! [As you can tell, I’m a morning person.]
I recently read that the Great Eighteen were performed last Sunday by J. Reilly Lewis at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. in addition to having each of the chorales sung by the Washington Bach Consort, of which Lewis is the conductor. The concert was reviewed by the Washington Post, “J. Reilly Lewis, Washington Bach Consort bring to life Bach’s 18 Chorale Preludes” which you can read by clicking the link. The reviewer writes, “Performances of Johann Sebastian Bach’s transcendent 18 Chorale Preludes don’t come along every day. Audiences rarely hear this music, especially in its massive entirety.”
However, to play all 18 chorale preludes in one sitting is in my mind, too much! It’s a little like eating a two-pound box of chocolates all by yourself in the space of one afternoon! As wonderful as this music is, I’m going to plan to do this in two concerts.
I’ll let you know when I’ve set a date.