Bach in Japan

March 11, 2013

No, this is not Bach.  His name is Massaki Suzuki and he’s the founder and conductor of the Bach Collegium Japan.  He is drawing huge crowds from all over Japan to his concerts.  It seems that many of these music lovers are having their first contact with Christianity through the music of Johann Sebastian Bach!  How is that?  Mr. Suzuki explains,

Masaaki Suzuki<br />photo: Marco Borggreve

“What people need in this country is hope in the Christian sense of the word, but hope is an alien idea here.  Our language does not even have an appropriate word for hope.  We either use a word meaning desire or another word meaning something unattainable.”   A professor said, “Where else in the world do you find non-Christians so engrossed in biblical texts?”

J. S. Bach died 7-28-1750

J. S. Bach died 7-28-1750

After each of his performances, non-Christians crowd around his podium to talk about topics that are normally taboo in Japanese society — death for example.  “And they inevitably ask me to explain to them what hope means to Christians.  Get’s me thinking about how I might articulate my answer to that question in an understandable way.  How would you explain what hope means to you?

According to one Japanese man’s report, “Bach gives us hope when we are afraid; he gives us courage when we despair; he comforts us when we are tired; he makes us pray when we are sad; and he makes us sing when we are full of joy.”

About three years ago, First Things published an article from which I learned about this Bach boom that’s still sweeping Japan.  It’s six pages long, but worth the read.    In it, the writer describes the bleak spiritual picture in Japan as well as the encouragement provided by Bach’s music.

Thanks to J. Marty Cope, our church’s choir director, who is organizing a tour for us to travel there this summer to sing music from Bach and Handel and old gospel hymns from America.

All this impacts me as yet another example of the impact Jesus had when he visited Planet Earth 2000 years ago sending ripples of influence on the arts and music as well as so many other influences for good.  I just finished reading John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man?, which shows the ongoing impact of Christ on so many ways we can live life with dignity throughout history as well as how we can be rightly related to God the Father permanently.

What an appropriate time of the year to listen to a portion of Japanese believers singing St. John Passion.

Musical Contribution to the Community

June 4, 2012

A magnificent organ like this required an incredibly gifted musician to play it.  The two came together last night when Colin Howland played at recital at our church (Park Cities Presbyterian Church).  His talent provided world-class entertainment; his commentaries gave us an education; his selections led us in worship of the Lord.

Colin graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and continued study at Baylor University.  He not only serves as Director of Music and Organist of PCPC, but also has traveled throughout the United States giving organ recitals for over 20 years.

His commentary on the 1812 Overture (written in 1880) brought some ironic humor to Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.  He explained that the two national anthem themes (French and Russian) had not yet been written in 1812.  Ironically, this piece has become a favorite fare in our Fourth of July celebration of the independence of the United States on the opposite side of the geo-political spectrum from those two countries.

Selecting three pieces that depicted the Passion of Christ focused our hearts on our Savior’s death, burial and resurrection:

The footsteps of Christ carrying the cross could be discerned.  Finally, the victory of the resurrection lifted everyone’s hearts.

The opening selection, Toccata, Adagio and Fugue by Bach, introduced a theme that carried through the program and lingered on to the next day.  Bach, himself, said it best: “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”  So, when all was said and done, that theme that Bach signed at the end of most of his scores lingers: SDG (Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone be glory”).



Thanks, Colin, a good man who is doing a good thing in our community.