What a difference a couple of weeks makes! Two weeks ago I played the large settings of Bach’s Clavierübung as a glorious celebration of Martin Luther, the Lutheran chorale, and the Reformation.
Today America has changed, and the mood is somber and angry—our future is uncertain following last week’s election. Yet I will play many of these same settings as a means of healing and comfort. Same music—but the context has changed. What flexibility! Isn’t the music of Bach amazing in its ability to be comforting as well as joyous?
In fact there is an article in Pyschology Today called “Healing through Bach,” in which the author wrote at the time of the Boston Marathon bombing: During this time of uncertainty, pain and reflection, I’m reminded of the power of music to help describe how we feel when words fail. Yesterday I taught a freshmen class of string players. As the class was to take place at the same time as the memorial service, it felt somehow disrespectful to hold the class as usual. It occurred to me that we as a class needed to be together, and that we had the power of music to fall back on.
The most appropriate thing I could suggest was to have any of the students who felt comfortable to play J.S. Bach. Why Bach? Whereas so much music reflects its time, Bach feels that though it’s always existed and always will. I listen to the fugues, and marvel at their craft. I listen to the cantatas and understand how religion can be so meaningful to millions. I listen to the d minor Chaconne and wonder if anything could sound so important. And so today, or any time you are faced with uncertainty, I invite you to listen the work of J.S. Bach and be thankful.
Today the organ recital will follow 5:30 pm Evensong as it has happened every Second Sundays at St. Mark’s Berkeley for the last 30 years. The list of recitalists and dates they have played is posted on the wall in the room behind the organ. What a list! And so many familiar names in the organ world—many of whom have also played recitals in Hawaii: David Higgs (George Emblom’s predecessor who started the series), David Dahl, Jonathan Dimmock, Robert Poovey, Bruce Neswick, Rodney Gehrke, Joseph Adam, Avi Stein and John Renke!
Tonight I will begin with a plea for mercy: the three settings of the Kyrie (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy), then move to Allein Gott (Glory be to God on high), then the Creed (We believe in one true God). Then there will be the Lord’s Prayer, and a hymn for baptism, ending with the powerful Aus tiefer Not (Out of the depths have I called unto Thee), a profound cry for help and justice.
If I can touch one person with this prayerful music, then my job will be done.