Back in the Fall, when I had an unusually large amount of solitary time to think during my sojourn in France, one of the thoughts that meandered through my mind was wondering how would I feel about performing this deeply religious piece of music for the first time. Musicians are often called upon to perform music that is religious in subject matter, and musicians’ beliefs span a wide spectrum from deeply religious to atheistic. Thinking about this upcoming Bach project got me pondering about how people relate to this music and subject matter. The most common thing I hear to this subject is, “it is such great music.”
Growing up, my mother took us each Sunday to Church, and faith has always been important part of my life. As I grow older and traverse the path my life continues to reveal for me, my feelings and beliefs about religion and the nature of God have changed, and as they evolve the less clear they become. I have always believed in a God, but I have come to question the impact of religion on society, and its reliance on the Bible as a historical document as I have gotten older. I have no answers, some opinions, and a set of beliefs that continues to evolve as time goes on. Coming from this perspective, I wondered, how will I relate to this music that tells the story of the Passion of Christ, the story that is the base of Christianity?
At a previous rehearsal, one of our organists and Jane, our conductor, were discussing the meditative nature of the piece. Today was surely a meditative experience. I found myself finding a fresh perspective on story of the Passion as each soloist breathed an emotional life into the narrative that I had never been able to appreciate before. I realized today that between the structure he created, the texts he chose, and the music he wrote, Bach infused the story with a drama I had never considered. By the time we were half way through the piece, I was surprised to find myself profoundly moved and inspired. I began to realize that in some senses, what is true is not what is important, but it is the lessons that we can draw from the story that are key. What does it mean to be selfless? What does it mean to truly love? In a way, more questions were raised, yet, somehow, I was left with a feeling of peace and the sense that I had taken a journey that had somehow changed me. This is more than just “great music”. It is a great experience.