“…Although he suffered many hardships, the old Bach did not settle for gloomy works, but rather wrote pieces that irradiate an irresistible, contagious joy.” ~ Isabelle Demers, from program notes at her organ concert.
Tom, Will and I were able to go hear the amazing Isabelle Demers play last month. It was an unforgettable concert. Waiting for the concert to begin, I mulled over why it was that we were helping our son to train on the pipe organ. What does Generation Gaga care about beauty and truth? Who will sit and listen to such concerts when William is my age? When so many Christian churches have adopted cheesy karaoke, poorly written musical schlock and rock ‘n roll house bands in “worship”, why bother? What’s the point?
Then Isabelle began to play that night. Whether the organ thundered or breathed its brooding tenderness, our hearts were lifted upward. I saw it on the faces of those around me, and I felt tears come to my eyes as I was reminded that in the darkness of our life and times, God is still there. Bach had it right. Even in old age, he didn’t settle for writing gloom, but after he took his pen and wrote JJ (“Jesu Juva” – Jesus, help me) at the beginning of his compositions, he wrote music that expressed an “irresistible, contagious joy.”
It takes great courage in the West today to train to be a serious musician. We are witnessing the collapse of Western civilization economically, morally, politically and spiritually. But I am thankful that amid the decay and the shaking of our foundations, God continues to gift individuals with music. This glorious music reminds us that we can have contagious joy because Christ has conquered sin, He has risen, and He sits at God’s right hand in all power and authority. God is in control. He is the source of all that is beautiful and good in this world. Music breaks through the barrier that separates us from the spiritual realm and offers us a glimpse of eternity. (Whether that is a vision of eternal hell or eternal heaven depends on the music you choose.) That’s why tears came to my eyes at Isabelle’s concert. That’s why we give our children a chance to study music.
Here are photos of the unbelievable instrument William will have the honor of playing in January at the concert. The organ’s refurbishment by the Schantz Organ Company was completed this past Easter. It is the largest organ in the state.
One of the pieces Will is going to play is “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” I remember this hymn from childhood as the choir of Mount Olive Lutheran would often use it at their Christmas concert. The choir would come in from the narthex, each holding a candle, and, without accompaniment, sing out this very old hymn dating back to the 5th Century. As we enter the season when we remember especially the Incarnation, the words are a powerful reminder of the gift of Jesus, God’s Son.
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!
At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!
He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!
O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!
This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!
O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!
Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!
Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!
Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!