Friday, July 2, 2010

Liturgical Life in Leipzig and Clarksville

Having spent a week teaching JS Bach -- the Man, the Faith, and the Music, it was interesting to see the looks on people's faces when I described the liturgical life in Leipzig in the eighteenth century.  They were in shock at a Sunday morning that began with the Matins bell at 5:30 am and concluded at lunch time.  At 7 am were a motet, hymns, cantata, hour of sermon, perhaps more cantata, and then the Divine Service (Eucharistic vestments, chanting in Latin and German, more choral music, and perhaps even incense.  Then a catechism service in the early afternoon and Vespers late in the afternoon.  It is no wonder that Bach's mind worked like a Lutheran choralebuch.  Jarsoslav Pelikan in his Bach among the Theolgians said that unlike Vivaldi, the four seasons for Bach were the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle, Lent/Easter, and finally Pentecost/Trinitytide.  Sundays and weekdays were nothing but Church and music for the Bach family.

How different it is for most Lutheran families today.  On Sunday we live by the ever popular 59 minute, 59 second time requirement into which we must fit our religious obligation, 45 minutes for Sunday school, a few minutes for chat and we are back to what we want to do.  During the week we may drop off a kid for catechism class but that pretty much fills the bill for us.  I am not saying that this is what people want but it is surely what we settle for.  Our lives are filled with work and leisure and only slightly touched by faith.  A radical difference between life in Leipzig and life in Clarksville for a typical Lutheran family.

When Lutheran do listen to religious music today it is generally the generic contemporary Christian music of radio or cd.  Seldom do Lutherans listen to the Lutheran chorales or even the great common core of Christian hymnody.  Hardly ever do Lutherans listen to the choral music of the Church.  In effect, there is little that is Lutheran or that Bach would recognize in the music that fills our life through radio, satellite radio, cd, mp3 player, etc... No, our liturgical life is pretty much Sunday only and the only Lutheran music we hear is on Sunday morning (unless we attend a congregation that does not use hymns of the great Lutheran authors and composers  - new or old OR we attend a congregation that uses CCM or praise music).  In effect, the culture of our lives is a culture distant from and even, perhaps, antagonistic to our Lutheran Confessional identity.

My point here is not to condemn or judge.  Scan the radio -- where can you find a station that plays Lutheran music?  Go into Borders and see how big the selection of liturgical, choral, or hymnic cds is - pitiful.  Sure we might browse Amazon but you kinda hafta know a name or something to find Lutheran music on Amazon to find what is offered -- sadly, most of them are out of print and only available used.  No, it is not because the opportunity is there and they do not take advantage of it -- it is because the opportunity is lost to us as Lutherans.  This is very sad.

I remember getting the Manz lps and then upgrading to cassettes and finally to cds.  I played the records until they were literally worn out and the cassette tapes were so stretched that the sound was distorted.  I still listen to churchly music all day long.  I find myself stopping work in my study and listening to what is playing and find my faith strengthened the uplifted.  I drive down the road singing out loud what I hear through the car stereo.  If I had an Ipod, I know what it would be filled with...

When I was a child we had a couple of hymnals in our house and a piano and the two went together like peanut butter and jelly.  It was common then to have a hymnal in the home and a piano and for the music of the Church to play in the music of the home.  But not so often today.

So I would encourage you to listen to the music of the Church.  You can get all Bach's music on cd for about a hundred dollars (and Handel and Haydn and Brahms and Mendellssohn, and Mozart....).  There are some very find cds on the music of Luther and Lutherans and hymn and church music for the seasons (get it at Concordia Publishing House).  There are also very find hymn collections on cd (The English Hymn is a great one).  If what we listen to different from Sunday morning, doesn't it stand to reason it only helps Sunday morning be distant from daily life?  Bach missed the internet, electricity, the Chinese buffet, the automobile, and the Ipod... but, upon relfection, what we miss from his Sunday morning and daily life may be the greater loss to bemoan... really!

What are the seasons of your life?  Spring, Summer, Fall & Winter.... or youth, young adulthood, middle age, golden years.... or Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, Lent/Easter, Pentecost/Trinitytide?


Elaine said...

I am either an anachronism or there are more of out there than you think. My dad was our organist. I thought everyone knew the liturgical calendar! Though we listened to Mitch Miller (yikes) and the HiLos on the stereo, by far the majority of the music we heard at home was classical. One of our favorites was by the Senior College in Ft. Wayne directed by Herb Nuechterlein. (Before he went to Ft. Wayne, Nuechterlein was organist at our church and my dad's mentor. This was before my time, of course :) Anyway, I cannot abide pop "Christian" music; my music of choice is sacred choral music, Bach and earlier. So, instead of "rock on" I say Bach on!

PaulW said...

Your readers might be interested in this site:

Free downloads of the complete organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach, recorded by Dr. James Kibbie on original baroque organs in Germany, are offered on this site: