Music Makes Community!

Go to www.youtube.com and search “BWV 68” (go ahead, I’ll wait)…

This will take you to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata #68, “Also, hat Gott die Welt geliebt” (“For Got So Loved The World”, John 3:16). This is one of the two cantatas I was privileged to sing on Sunday, June 3rd at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis as part of a beautiful Vespers service. This Vespers service does not stand alone, it is part of the annual (eleventh!) Bach Tage (“Bach Day”… which is really Saturday & Sunday) at Mount Olive. I’ve participated in the Bach Tage choir for 6 years now: each year we meet early on Saturday morning, are offered a beautiful presentation about the specific cantata that has been chosen, what was going on in the world when Bach wrote this particular cantata, the musical symbolism (cross motifs [Google it], major/minor keys, rhythms) and all sorts of other elements known as “text painting”, or making the music “sound” like the words that accompany it.

One of the two cantatas we learned this year was the one you’ve already listened to by now (you YouTube’d it, right?): “For God So Loved the World”. You noticed that the music started out in a minor (“sad”) key… but if you listened to the rhythm (long, short, long, short, long, short, long…etc) you may have noticed that it sounded a lot like a heartbeat: this is text painting! Also, the minor key could be “painting” the world in which we live: there is sin and brokenness in this world, into which God sends his heart, Jesus Christ. I could go on and on about the text painting, but what is sincerely important to me about this weekend is the community.

Each of the 6 years I have participated in Bach Tage, there has been a consistent core of people (I’m one of them now, I suppose!). And every year, there are a few people who attend for the first time, or who attend every other year or whenever they are available. What is so wonderful is that we all know why we are there: to sing (and appreciate) the music of a great master, under the direction of some fine leaders who have prepared scores for us, arranged for meals and social time, and coordinate a small band of instrumentalists with Baroque instruments for the presentation of the music in the Vespers service.

I’m sure most of the “newbies” are a little unsure of what to expect this day to be: will there be friendly people, will people judge me if I haven’t learned EVERY note ahead of time….what if my German ist ueberschlechter als die andere?! However, the fact that we all have at least one common goal allows us to meet at a central place all together, and we quickly begin to share our vocation, our recent travels, which church we each call home, etc.

By the end of the weekend, following the Vespers service, we each feel akin to one another. Not only have we accomplished a great feat (singing a whole Bach cantata in German, no less!), we have become a community through this music. Before leaving the beautiful reception hosted by Mount Olive following Vespers, we each say to one another, “See you next year!”

I cannot wait for the Bach Tage planners to reveal next year’s cantata: my heart may live in a world that sounds in a minor key, but God’s love for each and every one of us syncopates and propels my faith forward. 

Soli Deo Gloria!