Last Monday I attended the Good Shepherd Institute’s conference on “Bach in Today’s Parish” at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. Among the addresses I heard, the one by Dr. Uwe Simeon-Netto stood out as a brilliant and touching account of a life narrated by the Art of Fugue, sacred cantatas and Passion works by Johann Sebastian. Dr. Uwe Simeon-Netto recounts a childhood memory of Bach between the air raids in wartime Germany:
“From that very moment I heard the Art of Fugue at home, the opening bars of its Contrapunctus One returned to my inner ear virtually every day – while being bombed, while fleeing from Soviet-occupied Leipzig after the War, while sitting exams at school, while feeling lovesick of covering the Vietnam War as a reporter, while suffering from a writer’s block. O, I sang hymns in my head too, and I still do, none more often than ‘Abide with me.’ But most of all I am fixated by these fugues! They order my mind and my soul. In my prayers fugues join the hymns my grandmother sang into my ears during the air raids. And this has been going on for nearly seventy years now.”
The presentation also highlights Bach as world evangelist, particularly in the East. Netto tells story of musicologist Keisuke Maruyama who became a Christian by the studying the weekday lectionary readings as they followed Bach’s cantatas. Maruyama, simply by being acquainted with Bach and the historic lectionary readings said to friend, “It is not enough to read the Christian texts. I want to be a Christian myself. Please baptize me!”
You can read the presented paper here, “The Global Importance of Bach Today.” It is an incredibly insightful look at Bach’s musical confession of Christ crucified, and its impact across the world. During the presentation itself I remember Dr. Netto going off his script some as relates to the sale of the Lutheran Radio station KFUO in Saint Louis, said something to the effect of “For me, I cannot separate music and my faith!”
Well, neither can I. As we approach the Advent season of our Lord and reach the end of the church year, I am eagerly awaiting the final Gospel reading of the year, Matthew 25:1-13 (historic one year series) on The Parable of the Ten Virgins. Sebastian wrote a sacred cantata “Wachet auf ruft uns die stimme” for this eschatological text to be heard, sung, and confessed on the “Ultimate Sunday.” I have written a detailed analysis on this sacred cantata HERE.