Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The weekly cantata

Classes begin again today! I am enrolled in my final semester of course work, to be followed - God willing - by a thesis to be written in the summer and defended in the fall. One step at a time.

And those "one steps" over the past week have had something to do with the thesis. And with an independent study I am undertaking this semester. Which, itself, has something to do with the thesis.

So, the week before classes was a reading week, with lots to enjoy about it and I am happy to say that it really has me eager for the weeks ahead. I anticipate a good deal of my writing this semester to contribute - directly or preparatorily (no, not a word) - to the thesis. These days that has meant reading about Bach, and the Lutheran worship services of the 17th and 18th centuries.

More on that another time. What struck me last week, though, was the following comparison/analogy. Which, you know, I would never make about myself and so I make it about the kind of work I do. That is to say, even in jest I would never compare myself to J. S. Bach, in any regard. (Though, if I got that powdered wig I've always coveted . . . ) And one could hardly confuse the kind of worship services I have planned with those of Leipzig's churches in the 18th century. But I think they do have this in common:

Built around the sermon scripture, they seek to weave instrumental music, choral music, and congregational song into a theme for the day. Everyone and every thing in the service has its part. And ideally, when the hour is done, there is a lingering impression, an understanding of the scripture that is rooted in the sermon but expressed complementarily (also, not a word?) in all that has been said and sung, whether by congregation, choir or instruments.

In an ideal service plan, it seems to me, there is a weekly "cantata." Now, Herr Bach produced a pretty impressive cycle of services, and they sound like . . . well, like Bach! In my case (and in most cases today) the music comes from a variety of sources. My services are less durable than the Bach cantatas, but their structure and purpose are similar.

Except that our sermons are not an hour long, and we don't have another 20 - 30 minutes of music on each side of the sermon.

Well, anyway, just a little musing as I begin this semester and wonder about the future. I'd never considered that I've been preparing "weekly cantatas" for years now. With my above disclaimer about comparisons (i.e., there are no valid comparisons to Bach nor to Leipzig nor to the 18th century), this idea shapes my thinking about worship planning.

And it also suggests that as the music of that cantata-meister will figure into my thesis, I must begin to soak it up by listening to weekly cantatas by himself.

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