Thought Experiment

In honor of both the approach of Easter and the approach of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s birthday (March 21: Old Calendar, March 31: New Calendar), 1685, I propose a little thought experiment.

Imagine that J.S. Bach is the director of the Worship Arts ministry at your local church. For many years he supported himself, his first wife and following her death his second wife, and his 20 children (!!) from those two marriages that way. Among his duties was that of providing worship music for the Sunday service each week, probably similar to the duties of your own local church’s Worship Arts Director.

Of course in his day he couldn’t dial up CCLI to license some music for a Sunday service. If he wanted new music, he pretty much had to write it. Which he did. He wrote hundreds of church cantatas (along with voluminous other compositions), writing a new cantata each week for that week’s Sunday service … or more likely, writing them several weeks in advance so other members of the Worship Arts team could learn the music before the service.

To get this thought experiment started, I offer BWV 4, an Easter cantata first sung in church on Easter Sunday, 1707 when young Johann Sebastian Bach was 22 years old. Music historians believe he had written parts of it somewhat earlier as part of a job interview – for a job he didn’t get.

Now you might not be a classical music fan (or more specifically, a German Baroque music fan) but back in Bach’s day and time this wasn’t just boring ancient music written by some old white dude a long time ago. In fact he was frequently criticized for writing church music that wasn’t boring enough. It apparently contained too many “unusual notes” and “experimental sounds” for some members of the congregation, including members of the churches’ governing boards. So he job-hopped a lot in his younger years.

But I have a feeling that God was not displeased with the many joyful noises young Johann created to worship Him.

(Unless you really love Baroque music and have 15 or 20 minutes to listen, 5:50 (about 4-1/2 minutes in) is a good place to stop.)

I may be biased because I kind of like European Baroque music … but I imagine that going to church and hearing J.S. Bach’s worship music every week would have been quite a religious experience for a lot of folks in his church, in the early 1700’s in Germany.

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