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Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

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For a few years now every morning I have been waking up to one piece of music: Aria "Erbarme dich" from St. Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach. Performed by Collegium Vocale Gent under Philippe Herreweghe and published by Harmonia Mundi it is, in my opinion, one of the best recordings of St. Matthew Passion.

I am not a superhuman; like you, I do get tired with music which is repeated often. In fact, repetition is one of the biggest challenges of being a professional musician. Keeping the brain active and in a learning state during the daily, highly repetitive practice requires a focused creative effort. Oh, the infinite struggle to reach the Sublime!

Listening to this particular performance of "Erbarme dich" every morning stirs my mind and heart in ways I cannot describe. The sound of the violin, voice and orchestra blended perfectly together, executed with impressive attention to details, and at the same time full of passion, pain and hope. There has yet to come a day when I will discover all the layers and meanings of this aria, and satisfy my listening need.

The layers of Bach's writing are bottomless. His music can satisfy as just pure sound - vibrations our brains perceive as beautiful or harmonious. After peeling this first layer there is a depth of meanings, emotional and intellectual joys which can be derived from following and analyzing the form, the flow, the motives and their development, the use of intervals, numbers, rhetorical and theological concepts, etc. Bach's vast knowledge of theology, of music that came before him, as well as his virtuosic command of many instruments, especially the organ, make his compositions complex and demanding to listen and to perform.

In times when easy-to-digest music is ubiquitous, Bach may feel heavy and complicated. Actually, already in Bach's times his music was treated that way. The need for simplicity and accessibility in music is a common phenomenon which have existed throughout the ages, and its necessity and role it plays in our lives cannot be overstated.

But then, giving a try to unpack music that seems hard to grasp at first, may lead to moments of epiphany. Spirit-led human expression through art is endless. The more we open ourselves to the unknown, the more layers, meanings and dimensions of our lives are there to be discovered.

Let the Spirit guide us all on the journey!