As an organist, the spring equinox inevitably brings up J.S. Bach, who was born on March 21, 1685. To celebrate, I took to the console and binged on Bach's organ works for about an hour last Thursday. Afterwards, I thought, what is it that makes this music so wonderful, grand, and powerful? One can always point to his masterful contrapuntal writing (considered never surpassed by music scholars), but to me it's much more. It's the intent. Two quotes from Bach sum it up well:
“I have always kept one end in view, namely ... to conduct a well-regulated church music to the honor of God.”
“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”
The Doctrine of the Affects was a popular theory of aesthetics in music during Bach's life. Based on ancient principles of rhetoric and oratory, the composer sought to embody concepts such as joy, sadness, or sorrow into their music through the outward constructs of notes and rhythm. Bach's intent of channeling the divine through his music then was given a viable path to our ears. For myself, playing Bach is always an experience where new ideas for interpretation happen each time I revisit a work of his. And I look forward to those opportunities in the new works I undertake. It is because he has given us all so much to decipher in the notes and rhythms themselves, waiting to be discovered and released.
But now on to you, the listener. While music is no doubt subjective, there is a remarkable amount of consistency in our reactions to most music. This Lent I have offered music that is slightly more introspective during this penitential season. Perhaps no one has consciously noticed, but it is true. The big reed stops during the postlude have taken a leave of absence and the choir anthems include more serene and sublime selections, such as the Maurice Duruflé Kyrie on Lent I. All of these approaches signify a new affect in Lent, one that will be soon replaced with the joy and ecstasy of Easter.
Music is a potent and reliable partner in our journey through the liturgical year. Bach and generations of church musicians after have understood this but it is nothing if it is not shared with those who wish to listen. Soli Deo Gloria.
Director of Music/Organist
Mark Heiskanen has been Plymouth's Director of Music since September 2017. Originally from Northeast Ohio, Mark has experience and great interest in a diverse range of musical styles including jazz, rock, musical theatre, and gospel. He is thrilled to serve a congregation and staff that values diversity and inclusion in all facets of life. Read his mostly-weekly Music Minute here.