Blog Post #5

The research I did for the third paper was far easier than for the first two. It was mentioned in class that you will give students in the future a topic and thesis for the first podcast and then by their last podcast they will be able to choose both. I think this is a very good way to guide us in this process. I was/still am mostly lost when it comes to researching and coming up with a thesis out of nothing. I appreciate that we are given the liberty to choose our own topic on something that is interesting to us, and I think I would have gotten off to a better start with more structure at the beginning.

I struggle when I want to use a source that is specific to my topic, but don’t have enough. Learning to use general sources about Bach’s cantatas or even just Bach’s vocal music is something that I am not very good at. In the same way, learning to incorporate the readings we had for class into a paper that isn’t really related is something that I still need practice with. I also know that I could start my research sooner and that is another issue.

I am still working on the process of actually writing as well. I finally tried to outline a paper for my third paper and I will try to do that from now on. I know that I will be able to write more clearly when I can organize my thoughts from the beginning, so I think fleshing out a paper’s components before starting to work out how to say it will work to my advantage. I am appreciative of all the help that I have gotten this semester with writing and with feedback in general. Understanding this process will help me to continue my work on writing and grow toward being a more clear, and concise writer.


One of the greatest things that I am taking away from this course is my experience with research. After most of the semester, I finally realized how essential it is to actually go to the library and open a book. It is so tempting and easy to search and search databases and I think especially millennials tend to think that there is no way that the library would have a book on their research topic. It seems like the chances of finding something online are a lot higher just because of the amount of databases we have access to, but the reality is that the shear amount of sources online does not outweigh the amount of quality sources in the library. I think that the help I received in this class was a good extension of the practice we had in the first music history courses.

I was also impressed with the conversations that were had throughout the course. There was a lot of civil discussion in a class that is very personal for some people. The discussion after the election was a great model for how to have an intellectual conversation while validating people’s beliefs and not taking any hard feelings away from that. I liked how we were invited to set conversational guidelines at the beginning of the course which gave us some ownership to the material we learned and helped to create a safe and dynamic conversation space. Though the space was safe, I didn’t feel like I had much to say in class discussion. A lot of the readings were dense and I honestly skimmed most of them. It was hard for me to see how they all related especially when trying to fit them into a small topic for a research paper.

I appreciate the small class discussions and the work we did which focused on process. I will take away a new understanding of the music I sing and I will always question if the designations sacred and secular are necessary.

Renewed appreciation for Lutheranism

I had anticipated that I would spend most of this semester learning about world religions in Music and Religion and in my other classes, but I spent most of my time reflecting on Lutheranism.  While I hope to concentrate on other traditions in future semesters, I am thankful to have semester to think about the tradition in which my parents raised me.  Lutheranism never fails to offer new fodder for thought despite my familiarity with it.

I was especially intrigued this semester by the interrelatedness of and inconsistencies in Bach’s conception of music and theology.  Prior to this semester I held Bach in my mind as a deeply faithful composer, but not as a composer who sought to communicate a Lutheran theology with his music.  I learned about Bach’s ability to express ambivalence of being simultaneously sinner and saved and of feeling simultaneously guilty and relieved.  While many of the pieces we studied remind me that Bach’s music was homiletic commentary on Lutheran doctrines, John Butt’s article “Bach’s metaphysics of music” suggests to me that Bach’s conception of music itself was not wholly consistent with the Church.  Butt argues that for Bach music was a “medium through which God becomes immanent”, an idea that did not sit well with Pietist or Orthodox Lutherans.  I’m not sure if it is fair to suggest Bach’s conception of music and theology are in tension with each other, but I think it’s interesting to note Bach’s reverence for music itself despite the theological implications.

As I finish my final paper about Bach and as I reflect on our class, I am most struck by the complexity of Bach’s faith, especially when compared with Lutheran faith today.  I am impressed by Bach’s ability to conceive of God mystically because I think Christians today are horribly uncomfortable with relating God and sex.  I am impressed by Bach’s ability to musically capture the ambivalent burden and relief embodied in the crucifixion because I think Christians today fixate on one or the other.  I think a careful analysis of Bach’s music furnishes Lutherans with an opportunity to contemplate the intricacies of faith.  I hope our study of Bach’s music discourages me from characterizing God as understandable, but instead encourages me to revel in Christian theology’s mysteries.

Music and Religion: Learning a New Language

“What language are we using in our discussions?” was the question raised in the very first class session of Music and Religion. Now that it comes to the last day of class, my semester long experience with this course has been indeed a learning process of a new language that connects me with a subject that I had never explored before.

Having little religious background, except for two semesters of required religion courses that I had very limited memory of, I have always been resistant to talk about religion because I don’t consider myself a qualified and appropriate member to enter such conversation. This class, however, fairly pushed me to engage in such public discussions by driving me to reconsider my position and approach in verbal and written communications specifically about music and religion. How to initiate a safe environment of discussion? What are the proper tactics to deliver an argument? How to construct a common ground for efficient dialogues when the audience is of different religious background and/or having different religious principles?

One thing that I found effective dealing with these challenging issues was to build the religious aspect of the conversation upon the musical language that becomes the foundation of our communication. Always relating theological statements back to their musical counterparts – the motives, the melodic contour, the harmonic progression, the rhythmic quality, the instrumentation, the voicing, the text setting, etc. – helps me to overcome the potential gaps that I have with the audience and encourage me to involve in rational, objective and academic dialogues about the subject.

I should admit that this class was not the most pleasing and self-assuring class that I have taken, for I had plenty of discouraged and depressed moments through the semester. However, after coping with all kinds of barriers to find myself a proper seat in the discussion about music and religion, I can say I have attained the language that enables me to no longer absent myself from a significant field of musicology.

How can music be real if our ears aren’t real?

As we bid farewell to the last few fleeting days of not-finals, I can think of only one reflection that accurately describes what I’ve gotten from this course. Although I did manage to learn quite a bit about Luther, the Reformation, and music (& religion) in general, my most valuable takeaway was that of renewed respect for the complete subjectivity and ambiguity of music.

Like, what can we really know, you know? It might sound like a cop-out, but it seems that, as a musicologist, it’s a true struggle for concrete knowledge about music other than times and dates and other indisputable (sometimes) facts. Our journey through this class has shown me the difficulties of conducting thorough research into the more meaningful aspects of music. There is so much scholarship on the topic of music and religion that it’s challenging to make original, non-obvious claims.

I appreciated the opportunity we were given for a wide range of research topics, but I think that the course could have benefited from a narrower focus overall. The range of material at some points felt overwhelming, and I feel that the breadth of the scope somewhat prevented me from gaining a deep understanding of anything we talked about. On the other hand, there is still a lot about the relationship between music and religion that we didn’t cover (obviously). What I mean by that is that as westerners, we really have such an inadequate understanding of the music of other parts of the world. I get it, that’s what World Music is for, but if we’re going to focus on the Reformation, then let’s focus in further.

The podcast projects are my favorite part of the class. I really enjoyed being able to focus on topics that interest me, and the prospect of releasing these snippets of knowledge to the world brings a more concrete sense of relevance to the abstractness of the study of music. To me, listening to a finished podcast is much more satisfying than reading a finished paper. It’s more of a work of art than an essay is. It’s also a good way to include modern technology into the course.

I’d say the class was a success. Despite my critiques of it, I found it very fulfilling, and I think that it would be a good class to keep on the books.

Final Reflection

The readings from the beginning of the semester are the ones that have really stuck in my memory. I think the Sorce Keller reading is probably the one that will apply most broadly to how I think about music and music history in the future. Thinking of misinterpretation as a certainty can give us a lot of freedom to draw out meanings of our own from music. This was an idea that was very present in my mind when we read the Hildegard articles, which were personal favorites of mine. I also really appreciated readings on music in religions outside of Christainity- I thought the article on Islam was extremely relevant for us, and the article on Suya music gave me welcome exposure to a culture I knew absolutely nothing about.

The readings on Luther and Bach tend to blend together a bit more in my mind, but I think the guest lectures really became helpful additions to the course here. I remember that Professor Bateza’s lecture on Luther’s life and theology was particularly helpful for me- it was the first time I’d heard an explanation of the Doctrine of Justification that I really connected with. While I’m thankful for the deeper insights to Luther and Bach that I’ve gained through the course, I do think that our focus on them meant that we had to sacrifice talking about some other intersections between music and religion that could have been really interesting. Like many other students, I would welcome any more class content about theological traditions relating to music in religions outside of Christianity. I think it also would have been interesting to study some Western sacred music composed after Bach- as the podcast topics revealed, there are so many pieces that can add something new to the conversation about music and religion.

I appreciated that the class was very research-focused. The process is difficult and time-consuming, but it can be a very rewarding, and I like that research gives you an understanding of a topic that is much more detailed than what you can achieve with a single class discussion.

I’m too exhausted to come up with a title

This class was really, really hard. I expected this, though. I expected to work hard, learn a lot, and be challenged. This fulfilled my expectations. However, there were many ways where the course surprised me. First of all, I expected (as I think many did) that there would be more on non-western music. I think what we covered in a semester was appropriate, but that maybe the name “Music and Religion” wasn’t quite accurate. I felt that the structure and material of the course was very scattered at the beginning (in a good way) but then was so focused that I got a little lost towards the end. I also found most of the readings really hard to get through and usually did not understand more than about 25% of them (at least until getting to class). However, class discussions based on these readings were always fascinating for me, despite how useless I tend to feel in discussion-based classes. I usually would finally understand the article or chapter I had attempted to read and felt pushed to consider such a wide range of perspectives that I never would have thought of. I almost always left class saying “That was such an interesting class!!!!!” So, I think the most positive memory from Music and Religion will definitely be the in-class discussions.

Research. This was something I really struggled with this semester. I found it difficult to do largely self-guided (or one-on-one) research that was not inherently related to the class topics. I definitely appreciated the possibility for us to research whatever we were interested in, but I think it would have been less of a chore (and I think there is still room for it to be equally rewarding) if there was a more narrow focus/place to start. Also, while I don’t feel like the workload was unreasonable, I think I would have had more successful podcasts/finished products if they had been more spaced out. The first one had SO much time, and the last two seemed to be completed within a much smaller time frame. I just felt more stressed and less rewarded the further we got in the course.

All that being said, this has been one of the most exciting and challenging courses I’ve taken at St. Olaf. I think there are a lot of ways the course could be improved for the future, but I think it is absolutely one to keep around. (If we all make it through this week alive.)

Final Reflection: I guess I like Bach, and my ancestors were kinda cool.

Well, we have reached the end of a long and sometimes strenuous semester. Altogether, I think that this course was one of the best courses I’ve taken if I consider the academic progress I have made as a researcher and a writer. I also discovered a new appreciation for Bach; before, I wasn’t into his music as much. But now, I actually have found that I like Bach, especially his Passions, and that I will not cringe anymore when I hear his name. His music was pretty to me before, but now I know that there’s far more to it than meets the eye. Also, from investigating the music of the Anabaptists, I was able to learn more about my family’s ancestors, and that also proved to be a rewarding experience.

This class involved a lot of things I knew how to do. I knew how to read articles, how to come to class with a question or two (though if I actually asked them was a different story), and how to cite things in Chicago style.

However, I didn’t know how to critically engage in discussion and conversation with people about delicate topics. This I learned from our agreement to regard everyone in discussions with respect and understanding. Our discussions made me think, frustrated me at times, and altogether helped me to become a better discussant and become a better listener.

I also had no idea how to even begin to make a podcast. Through learning and submitting assignments in this medium, my technologically challenged self was able to learn a new skill that I hopefully can use with my students when I become a professor (hopefully – a lot of luck will be involved). I’m glad that I was able to learn this new skill and look at my work not only in a classroom perspective but in a real-world perspective as well.

And now that we’ve talked about the skills I’ve learned, I can talk about Bach! I honestly just didn’t really care for him before. I respected him as a musical genius, but his music just wasn’t my cup of tea. But, we were able to listen to a lot of his music, especially music with more dissonance, and I found myself enjoying that music the most, actually. His music just seemed too perfect to me before, but now I see that he also produced music that showed his beliefs and feelings. The Magnificat and the Passions also really pleased me and helped me to discover that Bach isn’t so bad. He’s actually pretty cool. I was hoping to discover a new appreciation for him; that was one of my goals for the semester, so I’m glad I could do that.

Finally, researching the music of the Anabaptists really was a highlight for me this semester. I opted to write the long research paper instead of creating a third podcast because I found the topic so interesting and had so much more to talk about! My family is Baptist, and since they descended from the Anabaptists, it was nice to learn more about the religion 500 years ago that shaped my own religion today. It helped me better understand why my church works the way it does, and it helped me to appreciate the music of my ancestors more. I’m really grateful that I was able to research them and learn more about them. I was especially excited to learn about their respect towards women and their lack of notated music – things I never would have thought to think about! This class helped me critically engage with my family’s religious history.

Altogether, it was a really organized, helpful class that challenged me but taught me much more than I anticipated.

I am just smol child trying to research

I had reasonable suspicion this class would emphasize Bach and Luther’s musical ideology. Once completed, I will have made three podcasts that all relate to Bach’s own music either directly or indirectly.

Within the organ community, we tend to worship Johann Sebastian Bach as some theologians worship Martin Luther. Of course, this is only because we’re fascinated by by his skills as a composer and church musician. In this course, I was excited to be able to take time in a course to study Bach’s work in a more intensive context. In my own personal study for my papers, I was challenged by the research process.The podcast medium has been frustrating when things have gone wrong, but rewarding and exciting when things have gone right. The biggest challenge this week will be refining my third paper topic since I’ve been talking about Bach related works this entire semester.

I enjoyed the in-class discussions we had, especially the one concerning the election. I wasn’t expecting this course to end up feeling like an open forum, and that was really fun to observe and be a part of.

I think it would have been fascinating to spend a few more days focusing on other religions’ relationships with music. I understand that this class looked forward to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, but once we got into a rhythm, it seemed to mature into a class where we mainly focused on music we already felt comfortable with. Of course, this is not to detract from the meaningful topics we did cover. There’s only so much one could fit in a semester.

All in all, I really appreciated the open research possibilities this class gave. This class has been incredibly challenging, and being able to choose my own topics that interested me made the challenge that much more meaningful. I’m a 19 year old organ performance major, so I’ll be there first to say that I’m not a profound musicologist; however, this class gave me practice time to creatively dive into the research process and explore the topics that I care about.

Reflections on a Semester

This course has been quite the experience for me this semester. Going into the class I did not have a lot of expectations about what it would be like, but I certainly was not anticipating being as overcome as I was by the sheer vastness of the subject. This class has been the first time that I’ve felt completely overwhelmed by a subject matter and felt completely lost within it. I had never really considered just how intertwined religion and music truly are. The history of religion is so integral to the history, development, and meaning of music in profound ways that had never overtly occurred to me and that is probably one of the biggest takeaways I have from this course, on a broad level.

I will always appreciate having started the class with the Marci Sorce Keller reading about how we understand and examine music. It put into words and a coherent argument something that had been on my mind on the issue of musicology for a long time now, and I felt that it was a very important way to start off this course, because it was even more applicable here, where we looked more closely at musical works and tried to place our understanding of them in more specific and detailed contexts.

I think this course has taught me most how to narrow my focus of study above all. On a larger scale, the broad scope of this course has shown me how important it is to have a clear direction with my studies in order to have a more focused outcome in what I have learned. On a more micro level, my work in my projects has shown me how to keep my scope narrow and concise, because sometimes you can only say so much about a certain subject in the context of certain assignments. This will be an invaluable lesson for me moving forward, as I have always had difficulty reigning myself in, and the podcast projects have greatly aided me in getting better at this.


The question that continued to present itself to me in this course was “do you buy it?”. I’m still working out my feelings in regards to certain kinds of musicology, but this semester was really useful for examining arguments about symbolism in musical texts. It’s helped me to clarify what I am interested in both as a casual listener and a student of musicology. The course has allowed me to compare methods of interpretation in music and scripture. I’ve thought a lot about the ways in which communities use texts to define themselves, whether it’s Christians and the Bible, or musicologists and the cannon of Western art music and musicological texts. I’ve mused a bit about thinking of musicology as a religion in its own right. It possesses holy texts, normative prescriptions for behavior (see: “authentic performance practice” pre-Taruskin), and even metaphysical systems! Aesthetics is the theology of musicology, and it often delves into just as much metaphysical speculation. The sort of commentary that takes place on musical texts is almost Talmudic in nature. Decades and sometimes century of commentary on various musical texts begins to form objects that are awe-worthy in their own right.

I suppose all of this is to say that I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter if I “buy it”. It matters if other people do. It matters what making the argument means in the first place, regardless of how well the argument holds up to scrutiny. I’ve realized that, like in my study of religion, my study in music is not a neat and tidy quest for truth. Rather, it’s an exercise in empathy and critical thinking. What I’ve realized I’m most interested in is why and how people listen to music, and what I can learn from that. The reading that’s stuck with me the most has been the Sorce Keller reading from the beginning of the semester. Remembering that I necessarily misinterpret just about everything is important for my ability to take certain kinds of arguments seriously. I have become more comfortable knowing that there is no “absolute truth”, only useful misunderstandings. I’m just thankful those misunderstandings are interesting.


As I’m looking back on this course, what stands out to me most is not really the general course itself; I don’t believe I am any more of an authority on music and religion than I was at the beginning of the class. I do think I am a more well-rounded music history student after being exposed to so many different, interdisciplinary topics in the class, and I know that I am a better researcher.

I was going to say that some of my favorite readings and discussions weren’t about my core interests as a liberal arts student, but that’s actually not true. I loved the reading about Suya songs and I enjoyed our discussion about how to properly study music from “other” cultures without making them The Other. At first glance, this article could be unrelated to my interests but the deeper conversation had a lot to do with struggles I have in any field of study.  I found Dr. Rodland’s lecture-recital about Bach, and especially the information about numerology, to be fascinating, but while I don’t really know anything about organ music, Bach is a major musical interest of mine. And of course, I really appreciated that we got to read about Hildegard (I was especially a fan of Holsinger’s work, although apparently that’s an unpopular opinion). I was also really interested in the discussion of how anti-Semitism can manifest itself in music. Unfortunately for me, Bach had been one of the very few composers/historical figures that I had managed to keep unproblematic before this class–I have a Bach tattoo and my senior recital is Bach themed. But problematizing and complicating things isn’t actually negative; it just means that we’ve actually devoted the time and thought to really considering what is going on in history, in music, in religion, and in the composer’s mind.

The biggest challenge for me in this course was class discussion. I actually did carefully read (or at least attempt to find something comprehensible) for class almost every single day. This issue is admittedly a personal problem in discussion classes, but it’s not always so difficult. I felt that even after reading the articles and thinking through discussion questions ahead of time, nothing I could come up with was really worth adding to the discussion. Often, my peers’ comments just went way over my head. I’m not sure if this is because of rhetoric that was used or my lack of background knowledge about the Bible or some other inadequacy, but try as I might, I really only came up with worthwhile contributions when we were discussing things that I felt like a resident expert on (read: gender–and sometimes not even that). I’m not one to talk just to hear my own voice. Maybe that means I don’t belong in this particular academic setting, but at least I found the experience of listening to others valuable. I’m not sure that there’s an easy solution to this, and I’m also not meaning to make an excuse for myself. But I do believe that I did the appropriate work outside of class and I hope I didn’t ever come off as indifferent.

Finally, if I could take a similar course again, I would love to learn more about non-Christian religions, especially religions that are being practiced today. It could be difficult to find scholarship on recent musical religious topics, but I would have enjoyed hearing more contemporary views, rules, regulations, and purposes about/for religious music.

Final Course Reflection: I’m not a musicologist but it might be useful

Throughout this class I have not so much learned a lot as I have had the chance to explore topics of my choice and grown in how I listen to and participate in conversations about religion and how it relates to music. I grew the most from our class discussions, and the points that we teased out from the readings and identified as the most important to use as basis or a spark for further ideas. Our discussions allowed me to see into the perspective of others, especially those that don’t share my beliefs, religious or otherwise. It was also helpful to have such a group to discuss the results of the election with and connect what we had been learning to current events.

I think that what we learned and discussed in this class can be applied to how I think about my future profession as a musician and how the music that I may be singing fits within the theological and historical context of Christianity. Such insights will help me be more in touch with my own personal belief and whatever belief is baked into whatever that music might be. Otherwise, I don’t really know how what I learned can be useful, as I do not plan to become a musicologist (perhaps in grad school if I have to take more courses in history).

I understand that this class occurred partly because of the Reformation, but I wish that we had spent some more time on non-Western music (beyond the course introduction), as well as on contemporary music (which we only mentioned in discussion and did not read about explicitly in readings). I also found myself becoming a bit bored doing only Bach for so long towards the end of the semester.

Overall, this course had great opportunities for applying what we discussed to our own areas of interest, and I feel like I will walk away from this with improved ability to examine these topics effectively.

Liberal Arts: Learning How to Question My Perspective

I remember the excitement I felt when I registered for this class. The topic was familiar to me, since we discussed it at length in our regular music history class, and the intersection of music and religion is a prevalent topic at St. Olaf in general. However, before I encourage anyone to take this course, I would have to stress that it is only as rewarding as the amount of work the student is willing to put into it. This semester has been difficult. The readings are long and can be dense and dry, and the papers and podcasts require time and care.

This course challenged me, in both the great amount of work we all put in to succeed, and in the differences of perspectives from the authors we read and from our peers. The Sorce Keller article, with which we began the class, set a precedent for the class, as it asked me to question my own tastes, and why I consider some genres of music good or bad. I especially loved the Holsinger reading on Hildegard for a few reasons, the first being that Hildegard’s music is stunning, the second being that someone could potentially make the argument that a Catholic nun in the twelfth century was a proto-feminist. Although the argument is not foolproof, I still can assert that Hildegard was a bad-ass woman for her time.

The podcasts, though difficult and time consuming, are some of the more rewarding papers I have written. Because I was free to choose any subject relating to the course, I was able to choose topics in which I was interested. I found some great books while researching that I would like to add to my own personal collection. Why Catholics Can’t Sing by Thomas Day would be a great Christmas present for my mother.

Like I stated in the first paragraph, this class forced me to question my own perspectives, which is a lesson that I will use in many different aspects of my life, especially as a teacher. I wish that we had more time to focus on more non-Western traditions, and more modern music. The intersection between music and religion spans much more than what could be covered in one semester.

Music and Religion: What I learned and What I’ll take away

This was a very good class for me to take. It forced me to look at religion from a very different perspective than what I’m accustomed to doing. I was seeking more of an experience where I could learn more about how religion and music intersected and how each fed off the other. I certainly got that from this class in more ways than one. Through the process of reading the class readings and podcast topics thinking of how to incorporate these two topics together, I was forced again to see how complex this intersection is.

Like I said in my first paper, as an evangelical Christian, I wish that life was much more simple and black and white. I wish that religion wasn’t so complicated and that music wasn’t so complicated too. Ten people (even evangelicals) can look at the Bible and come up with completely different interpretations of the same text. There’s too much subjective opinion, and that is one thing that will always frustrate me about life in academia. You can never find an objective truth, and you’ll spend your whole life writing your educated opinion. I want something more practical for my life.

But that being said, the process of research and writing has also been very invigorating. Through my work in this class, I’ve been forced to face some challenges to my pre-conceived notions and have needed to defend my views logically and succinctly. Through thinking through my faith, it has made it stronger. This process of thinking and questioning used to terrify me, but now I realize that it’s OK to read other views and consider them (this has been a process my whole college career). Through thinking about music’s connection to faith, I’ve come to love music even more as I start to understand that God created all music to glorify Himself.

I wish we had dug more into practical theology and how music and religion helps us live our lives, but I know this isn’t Bible college. I’m very happy though I went to a college of the Church where I could ask these questions, and this class has just made me want to learn more about music and my faith. As a future seminary student who intends to keep on teaching music, I want to know how my two loves can be combined to live out my fullest vocation. This class got me started for sure, and I’m very grateful it was an option for upper level history (nothing else would have been nearly as interesting and fulfilling as this course).

Reflections on a Challenging Semester

Oh boy. What to think about this semester.

I’ll be the first to admit that this class was not my number one priority: I was planning a senior recital, juggling a few jobs, and switching majors (as a SENIOR yikes). I was absolutely ecstatic for this course coming into it, however, as I am (now) a Church Music major and want to pursue a career in sacred music. I loved learning about the earliest readings we did – Suya, Hildegard, Music and Religion in Islam, etc. As we continued, however, things started feeling very similar. While I do appreciate the focus on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I wish it was a bit more spread out throughout the semester. As many others have mentioned, it also would have been great to focus on non-Lutheran or even non-Christian religions. It’s tricky though, with a topic name like Music and Religion, to narrow it down to something that will fit the time allotted.

Which brings me to what I’ve learned. I’ve learned that research is incredibly hard and I really don’t think I’m very good at it. Starting too broad and narrowing it down was very challenging, so I often started too narrow and then couldn’t expand enough to find what I needed. What’s more, I quickly turned topics that I was interested in and ruined them for myself because I associated them with stress. I actually ruined Beautiful Savior for myself this year at Christmas Fest. I doubt this struggle with research was due to the class or the research itself; it’s been a pretty tough semester. But it did help me realize what little exposure I’ve had to research at St. Olaf and helped me improve (a little? I think?).

I’ve read a few others say that they were affirmed in their Lutheranism during this class. I was affirmed in my Catholicism. It was very helpful to learn about what I’m not to further justify what I am. I will definitely take that mindset into my future life. I also greatly appreciated the discussions we had about healthy discourse and the election. Those were some of the greatest conversations I’ve had while at St. Olaf, and it was so amazing to come to a common ground of respect for one another. One thing I would recommend going forward is to encourage more conversations that don’t specifically surround a piece of music or one composer – some highlights were: appropriateness in worship, sacred vs secular intent in a worship service, thinking about pop music as sacred, and the two I mentioned earlier. This way, there’s room to talk about a specific piece if wanted, but everyone feels just a little bit more safe to participate. I also think one less podcast and more emphasis on in-class reading and discussion would have helped the atmosphere of the class a little better. It was really hard sometimes to justify going when it didn’t seem like anything we discussed in class would be graded.

All in all, I really enjoyed this class, though it was not what I expected. I learned a lot about research and myself, while learning and appreciating a lot more about Bach. I hope that the feedback given helps the course get better so it can be taught many more times – it’s a perfect topic for St. Olaf.


Research and Reflections

Looking back on this course, I think I will remember and appreciate the research and writing process. I really enjoyed learning to evaluate sources and investigating topics about which I had little background. In the past, I have sometimes had trouble coming up with an arguable thesis, and the writing I’ve done in this class has helped me feel more confident in this respect. I also had never had to change papers into podcasts, and I found the podcast part of the class to be an educational experience. While I secretly hope I won’t have to make too many more podcasts in the future, I feel happy to know that I can if asked.

I think another specific take-away from this class for me will be the research I am doing on my last paper. I am currently writing this paper about a Bach cantata, and I wish I had written this paper earlier in the semester. It is forcing me to think critically about the Bach and Luther articles we read for class. Since my first two research topics involved non-Lutheran, non-Bach traditions, I felt like class discussions didn’t have a lot in common with my research. Now that I’m researching a Bach cantata, I am finding so many connections! I am excited for this paper to help solidify in my mind some of the topics we have covered in class conversations.

Nevertheless, getting to choose my own topics motivated me to want to do extensive research, and reading articles from a variety of traditions inspired me to seek out music I previously didn’t even know existed. I highly valued the time I spent researching the shofar and Sacred Harp singing, and I loved reading articles such as those about the Suyá and Sufi traditions. For this reason, I wish we had spent a little more time exploring non-Christian, non-Western traditions (although I do realize that “Music and Religion” is a huge topic, so it would be impossible to include everything).

Blog Post Number Six

This semester has certainly been a mix of valuable lessons–most of these lessons can fall under the category of “realizing how much I don’t know, and how to get around that”. As the title of the course suggests, to conceptualize and understand the crossroads (hehe) of music and theology is, for lack of a better word, hard. Of course, our scope was slightly more narrow–our readings were focused on western music and its ties to the reformation. No matter, I still feel like the big takeaways from each reading were something along the lines of “wow, you ought not to make any claim about this composer/piece and how they/it relates to this theme unless you approach this topic of xyz, all of which you’ll inevitably misunderstand, and that’s OK”.

Nonetheless, I realized about mid-november that the learning process within such a vast and open-ended topic is non-linear, and oftentimes not about “putting more information in my head”. In other words, objective facts and schools of thought within music and theology aren’t just going to be ‘understood’ through the readings. But the readings serve to guide our thinking.

The research projects, however, were certainly the crux and biggest learning tools for all of us (if you disagree, get out). The process of researching, writing on, and simplifying-into-podcast-form an uber-narrow topic really helped me conceptualize how to approach academic learning (all the while improving my writing and critical-thinking skills?–maybe?).

To be quite honest, another extremely valuable lesson from this course was: you get out what you put in. The discussions were flat, almost every day. Days when I skimmed the readings, I could participate little. Days when I had read more deeply, I could participate a little more. Days I didn’t read, well, I didn’t say much. It got really frustrating, because most people didn’t ever read (kudos to those who did, you know who you are!), therefore we became insouciant with the general level of effort. Had we all put more time in, I predict the class dynamic and depth of discussion would have been inspiring and engaging. Boo to all of us students. Its true, and we all know it. Sorry if this last paragraph offended you, but we sort of owe Professor Epstein an awkward apology for making his job harder.


Final Blog Post: Course Reflection

I knew this course was going to be challenging, a lot of work, and that it would be a wonderful combination of my two majors here at St. Olaf. I think it did turn out to be all of those things but in a different way than I imagined. Reflecting back on this course I definitely will remember and appreciate one of the early articles we read about the Suyá people as well as all of our conversations about Bach. I always wonder about appreciating art without understanding the full intent of the artist (that would be nearly impossible), and this course and our Bach discussions have further complicated those questions in my mind. I also will always remember that the distinction between “sacred” and “secular” music is not a strict dichotomy and I should use those words and categories sparingly and with qualifying explanations.

One of my biggest challenges with music history is finding how it translates to life beyond St. Olaf. However, because the entire semester we looked at music overlapping other parts of life I think I practiced looking beyond one topic or subject for how it influences and is influenced by other parts of the world (such as politics, power, geographical location, etc.). Additionally, as with any course in college, the dynamic and pace of the classroom participants and the schedule present a new set of challenges. I think I will remember this class fondly for how it pushed me to create different kinds of work on a timeline in a group of people (and young scholars) who were all coming from different religious backgrounds and points of view. When I go into my life after St. Olaf, I will look back at this class as one of my most homogenous experiences since we all have a strong bond of all being St. Olaf students who had taken a year of the music history survey and there’s a lot of shared common knowledge there. This semester was a unique one for me, just as every semester is unique. Since courses do not exist in a vacuum I wonder how being in a different life stage would have changed my perception of this class.  

I appreciated that we were preparing for the 500th anniversary of the reformation and we had the theme of Luther running throughout the course, but I think I would have enjoyed spending more time exploring other religions and their musical traditions. I’m sure that would end up needing to be its own course, though.

Life Can Only Be Understood Backwards

The sources I’ll probably rely on the most are Luther’s preface to Symphoniae jucundae. It’s personally one of my favorite writing of Luther because it resonates so well in my life as well as a good explanations of why music and Lutherans go hand in hand. Another source I’ll remember is the Holsinger article on Hildegard because it was so distant from what I knew about Hildegard from Great Con. One source I will thoroughly try to forget is John Butt’s article on the metaphysics of Bach. Basically whenever Spinoza is brought up, even if only to say that he will play a large role in the next chapter, I will not be a fan.

I will also remember the conversation we had about the election. It was really neat to come together and talk about it in a cordial way. We’ll have to see what happens, but I bet if we can keep coming together like that, things probably won’t go to hell in a handbasket. I also really liked our discussions about BWV 243. Usually I don’t think about her much at all, so it is good to be reminded that she is important for understanding the story of Jesus’ life.

A lesson I’ll probably use outside St. Olaf is that just because a paper has an absurd thesis, doesn’t necessitate it having a weak argument. Not only are there forces in the field to which I may be unaware, but being charitable at the outset of a paper seems like an academic virtue.

I wish we had spent more time on the theologians who influenced Luther, and what they thought about music. I am sometimes guilty of deifying Luther too much. Placing Luther in a tradition that I believe goes back at least to Augustine makes Luther seem less like either a one off madman or ecclesiastical savior, and more like a reasonable human character.

This class covered two topics which are of great interest to me and most of the people I know, quite frankly. It was enjoyable and informative, and I hope it will be taught many more times.

The title is half of a quote from Kierkegaard’s journals from 1843.

Music and Religion, thy cup runneth over

Music and Religion has been overflowing with new knowledge and information along with new ways of looking at knowledge that we already had. Between the readings and the papers that I wrote over the course of the semester my ability to look at music through a religious lens grew in leaps and bounds. Part of this was contextual, where I know have a larger base of theological and musicological content from which to analyze a new piece, say a Bach cantata, that is put in front of me.

With the 500th anniversary of the reformation upon us, the work we did in contextualizing Bach’s theology will stick with me from this class. I’ve taken courses that discuss the reformation in my time at St. Olaf, but the Lutheran theology of Bach’s time, though very similar, focuses on new aspects of the religion. Our focus on the influences of the Pietists versus the Orthodox views on music will influence how I view the roles of music within the Lutheran church moving forward. The methods which we approached Bach’s works will also prove valuable in my role as an organist. Being able to read into Bach’s compositions in a meaningful manner (it’s not just a numbers game) will inform not only my future choices in performing Bach’s works, but also a deeper understanding of the theology behind the music itself in works like the St. John passion.

I will also hold dear to my heart all of the information that I learned in the first research that I did on central African hymnody and its westernization within American hymnals. I do not deny the value that world music has within a worship setting, but I have always been uneasy about the motivations that are often behind its use. Inclusivity, and awareness of a worldwide christian population have always been justifying elements to the argument, yet through my research I found that African hymnody (likely other world music as well) is much more complicated than one might assume. The religion was mostly disseminated globally by European missionaries and so global hymnody ends up being full of western influence. This poses an ethical dilemma for those who wish to represent inclusivity within a western church, because a lot of global hymnody really expresses the influence of western christian music upon another culture and religion. I will continue to carry this beyond this course in my life as a church musician, and I will approach global hymnody with the intent to pick hymns that truly represent the culture and concerns of the christians who wrote them, and to use them to authentically represent their creators.

If we had more time in this class I would have loved to spend more time focusing on the music and religious context of non-western religions, especially that of Asian religions. I think that by understanding a large swath of religious beliefs and music together, the connections between music and theology that we made in areas familiar to us could be either questioned further, or affirmed. The value of expanding our reach to diverse areas would, not only be plain interesting, but it could be groundbreaking in the understanding that we have about the relationship between music and religion.

Lutherans, Library Books, and Late Nights: Things I’ve Learned About and Loved in Music & Religion

As much as I’ll always cherish the memories of learning how to use scary-sounding voice distorters in the DiSCO, being part of an impromptu music major flash mob at the music library printer every morning that a paper was due, and of course getting our professor’s infant to smile at me eleven times in one eighty-minute class period, I think what I’ll appreciate most looking back on this semester (other than the baby smiling thing, because that really was a true highlight) is the research. That surprises me, because it wasn’t the aspect of class I was most looking forward to, never having tackled such a formidable volume of writing or self-directed research before, and although I love writing I’ve never found it as fulfilling or meaningful to write research papers as to engage in discussion with other people.

So, this discovery – that research can be exciting and meaningful and rewarding, even when I’m up way too late trying to compile the stacks and stacks of thoughts in my brain into one coherent argument – was very unexpected, and a great learning opportunity for me. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about how to read sources with a critical eye, make arguments using reliable support, and consider academic topics from many multi-layered perspectives. I will strive to carry that simultaneous critical mindset and well-rounded flexibility forward as I embark on all my journeys of music education, including student teaching next fall. As someone who wants to use a wide range of multicultural music respectfully in the classroom and work with a diverse array of students, I believe that duality will be vital in selecting really good repertoire from authentic sources and teaching it in sensitive, eye-opening ways.

Although I wish we could have spent more time on non-European music (for example, doing the extensive research for my second research project all about “Wade in the Water” was fascinating), I also get that “Music and Religion” really is a huge topic, and we can only cover so much in three and a half months. So, here’s to the illuminating, intriguing, and highly eclectic podcasts, readings, and class discussions of Music 345A: Music and Religion. I leave you with this thought-provoking quote from Martin Luther: “Peace if possible, truth at all costs.”

Music 345A and St. Olaf College

As I mentioned in my last blog post, this class humbled me greatly. I have read articles that opened my eyes to brilliant new topics, discussed issues that challenged and expanded my understanding of music and theology, and have had my Lutheran background questioned and affirmed. Though I usually found myself listening more often than speaking, it was almost impossible to not be engaged during class discussions.

Looking back to the topics we discussed in class, one thing that will stick with me is our analysis of Homoerotics in the music of Hildegard von Bingen. It’s nice to see my gender represented in the humanities every once in a while; even though there are few records of female theologians before the 20th century (and I recognize this makes it difficult to study female theologians prior to this), I enjoy reading about their contributions to society during their lifetime.

Moving forward, this class has boosted my excited for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, even though I was already excited about this, given my Lutheran heritage. Martin Luther’s radicalism has shaped much of what I believe today; I was confirmed in the Lutheran church, I know the Lutheran Catechism, and I’ve read the Lutheran Handbook cover to cover multiple times (the latter is not a historical document by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an amusing read – 10/10 would recommend). In learning more about Luther’s theology and thoughts on music, I was able to see myself in the context of the class. Luther is part of my culture and heritage. The Doctrine of Justification not only makes sense to me, but it’s part of what I was raised to believe.

Even at St. Olaf, the most Lutheran of Lutheran institutions, we rarely discuss the theological basis on which our school was founded. This course is important for St. Olaf because this class represents our school’s roots. Even more so, this class represents St. Olaf as a whole because this class was not just about Luther; we explored other cultures and religions and musical practices. Similarly, St. Olaf is not just for Lutheranism; it’s for a whole bunch of different people with different cultures and music. St. Olaf is the epitome of Music 345A.

Reflections on the Semester

As a whole, Music & Religion challenged me in many ways, which gave me a wealth of knowledge that I didn’t even realize I gained. I can name off a long list of things I hadn’t even thought about before this course, including homoeroticism in Hildegard’s compositions, Islamic approaches to music, and what Martin Luther might say about Christmas Fest. Although the course mainly focused on Christianity and music, I was glad to read and talk about other religions and music as well. Through sometimes intense readings and class discussion, this class fulfilled me in the exact way I hoped it would.

The thing that will stick with me the most is the research I did for my papers and podcasts. Regardless of the thesis, final grade, or amount of time spent editing my papers, I learned so much about specific topics that are profoundly interesting to me. For my papers, I chose topics that interested me and applied to my real-life experiences. I’ve already found myself saying things like “did you know A Mighty Fortress is Our God is actually a paraphrase from a psalm?” which is frighteningly geeky but I’m not sure I would’ve known stuff like that without being prompted to find out.

From class discussions over the semester, I’ve found many new ways to think about music. I think it’s easy to categorize tough topics in your mind as black or white, no grey area. Music, however, will probably never fit into just one category, which comes as a refreshing change to some of the ways I’ve learned music in the past. Yes, you CAN challenge the meaning of music and you might not be right about it. Drawing inferences from music with evidence that supports your idea is probably even better for your brain than crossword puzzles.

I do wish we would’ve gotten to spend more time on music of religions outside of Christianity. Since St. Olaf is a Lutheran school after all, I think sometimes we focus too much on where “our” (but obviously not everyone’s) traditions came from. At the same time, I don’t think it was extremely detrimental that we didn’t spend as much time talking about other religions since the content we did cover was full of so much information. Overall, I’m very glad I got the opportunity to take this class and am thankful for all of the hard work I put in to learn something new.

I’m Writing About More Non-Beautiful Music

I decided to write about one of the Bach cantatas from the list of suggestions, and I thought it would be interesting to pick the first one available on the list – just to see what I could find. That turned out to be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. After spending a while trying to find something intriguing about “Meine Seufzer, meine Tranen,” I expanded my options and looked at “Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott.” After listening to the opening chorale, I decided that this piece had a lot to offer. It has historical references, intense dissonance, strangely harsh text, and potential ties to Calvinism. My only concern is that I’ll get tired of listening to it before I turn in my podcast next week.

The dissonance and orchestration of the cantata seem like they will be interesting to research and analyze. The opening chorale has such jarring dissonance that I find it unpleasant to listen to (continuing my pattern of picking non-beautiful music for podcasts). In contrast to the dissonant chorale, the first aria is accompanied by a busy, seemingly-happy flute part. This felt like a strange background to the text (in which the singer pleas to God for forgiveness from sin).

The texts of the cantata movements also interested me. The first aria says, “…so that, through sinful acts, we might not be destroyed like Jerusalem.” The instrumental chorale is called “Why are you so angry?” These texts seemed particularly harsh and also seemed to possibly refer to a particular time of difficulty. It turns out that the text of this cantata came from a poem by Martin Moller (1584). Moller apparently had Calvinist leanings, which might explain why the text of this cantata is so dire. On the other hand, I was surprised that Bach would choose a text with Calvinist undertones! Bach composed this cantata in 1724, the year after he left a Calvinist patron (for whom he wrote mostly “secular” music, since Calvinists weren’t looking for chorales, etc.). I wonder if this influenced his choice of text. On the other hand, maybe I’m reading too much into the meaning of the text.

As I continue my research, I plan to further investigate the points I’ve mentioned so far. I’ve found a few good academic sources specifically talking about this piece, but I predict that I will have to read more general sources about Bach’s life and times; I’ll probably also have to do most of my own analysis. So far, I think my thesis will probably center on Bach’s ideas about beautiful music, Bach’s connections to Calvinism, or a creative analysis of the combination of text and orchestration (which I haven’t developed yet).

BWV 70 “Luther’s on muh mind” – J.S. Bach

BWV 70 Wachet! betet! betet! Wachet! is a Bach cantata with binary characters. The title itself expresses this dualism with its two contrasting moods. Watch! (Wachet!) and pray (betet!) lend themselves to Bach’s own musical characterization with hurried flourishes while watch is sung, and long held chords during pray. The text is apocalyptic and sets the pains and sinners of an earthly world against the judgement and ultimate forgiveness for those who believe in Jesus, and Bach continues the musical dualism between setting texts describing apocalypse, and texts that describe Jesus redemption for those who have faith.
Bach emphasis on creating a separation between earthly suffering and imminent judgment echoes many of Luther’s own sentiments toward the separation of earthly and heavenly kingdoms, and the true imminence of the apocalypse. Luther himself believed the apocalypse to be so near to his life time that he worked to quickly translate and publish the bible book by book, in order to reach and save as many people as possible. This coupled with Bach’s exegesis on how we should react to worldly suffering makes this cantata an extremely Lutheran work.
In continuing my research I hope to corroborate Luther’s specific principles about apocalypse and the two kingdoms within Bach’s treatment of the text, and the emphasis he places on specific statements. I anticipate most of my sources to be primary source texts by Luther in order to form opinions about the musical setting of Bach, and I hope to only use secondary texts written about this cantata to gain a better understanding of currently thought and scholarship, and to look for possible counter arguments or differences in interpretation.

On Motivation and the Senior Slide

Over the Christmas Festival Weekend, I had an idea to look into BWV 80 Ein Feste Burg for my final paper/podcast combo. I started researching. I listened to it. I immediately got bored. I’m not quite sure why I felt so unmotivated by this topic, but I decided to try to follow something I was more passionate about.

I really want to look into the Magnificat (D Major, BWV 243) and specifically the 3rd and 4th movements – Quia Respexit into Omnes Generationes. The third movement has such an incredibly different sound than anything else in the Magnificat; the chromaticism, the descending lines, and the starkness of oboe and basso continuo aren’t seen anywhere else in the Magnificat. Right now, I have a lot of ideas about this piece and am not fully sure where to take them. These movement focus on the section of the Magnificat dealing with humility: “He hath regarded the lowliness of His servant, for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” It’s clear that Bach intended to apply an entire mood to this movement, but I find the incredibly quick change into Omnes Gereationes startling and interesting. I feel like there’s something there.

Right now, I’m doubling back on the Rathey and Heller articles we read earlier. I really want to avoid just regurgitating information that we already discussed, and I’m hoping that by focusing on the two movements will allow me the freedom to discuss many things about those movements. One interesting thing that I want to pursue more is when one author (and I honestly thought it was Rathey, but now I can’t find it) called Mvmt. 4 a turba chorus. Of course, I have no idea where this thread will go, but right now I’m digging to see if there’s anything important there.

One last idea that I think would be interesting is analyzing how these two movements are inherently Lutheran Marian theology as opposed to Catholic Marian theology. This would require a comparison of the religious side of things and an application directly into the text. This is super intriguing to me but I’m scared to dive in because of the difficult research and sort of abstract method of coming to a thesis.

All in all, I’m glad that I’m at least excited about my topic now. It will possibly be more difficult, as I really have to make sure I’m not copying the articles we read already, but at least the motivation is there. Fight the senior slide. It’s only fall semester.

Bach, Elferen and Coakly

I am writing about mysticism in a Bach cantata.  While researching for my last paper I came across Isabella van Elferen’s book Mystical Love in the German Baroque: Theology, Poetry, Music where she categorizes mystic experiences and descriptions.  I think Elferen’s discussion of passion mysticism, communion mysticism, and mystical desire for death are especially interesting and I would like to incorporate her ideas into my next paper.

While an analysis of Elferen’s idea’s in Bach’s cantatas could suffice, I started thinking about Baroque mysticism in relation to modern theologies of sexuality.  More specifically, I have been thinking about the possible relationship between Bach’s mysticism and Sarah Coakly’s theology of sexuality.  I recently read Coakly’s article “Living into the Mystery of the Holy Trinity: Trinity, Prayer, and Sexuality” where I encountered the idea that human desire for God is necessarily related to human sexual desire.  I suspect that Coakly’s explanation of sexuality and faith might shed light on Baroque (and Bach’s) mysticism for modern readers/listeners who are uncomfortable with relating God and sex.

Elferen and Coakly’s ideas intrigue me and I would like to provide a modern theological explanation for mysticism, but I am not sure if this a wise choice.  I might disproportionately focus on theological analysis instead of musical analysis and I would need to quickly familiarize myself with Coakly’s essay “God, Sexuality, and the Self” which I have not been able to find on Catalyst.

Ich bin ein guter Hirt

The inherent perfection of Bach’s music, both spiritually and aesthetically, is a topic I find quite puzzling. What exactly makes even his most ‘minuscule’ (*gasp* but nothing by Bach is mundane!) compositions sound still so wonderful?

I’m not going to be exploring exactly that topic for this final paper, but I want to look at ways that Bach shows his imperfections, and struggles within his music.

Of the listed cantatas, Ich bin ein guter Hirt (BWV 85) seems the most-fitting to explore this subject. I aim to analyze features of the text, harmony, and orchestration that arguably embody Bach’s many struggles with life; namely, being a good shepherd.

My introduction should bring to the table sufficient evidence that shows the universal perception that Bach’s music is perfect and that he was wholly devout, and then introduce scholarship that challenges this notion. My thesis, hopefully, should be the following: Ich bin ein guter Hirt has strong allegories that show Bach’s inner turmoil with faith. 

After my analysis, I hope to conclude by showing: While we deify Bach for his inspirational and timeless music, he was just as human as any of us. Searching for elements that portray his ‘human’ side adds to the profundity of the experience for the listener (Bach may have even wanted this?).

I’m wondering if I should also explore the topic of how Bach’s ‘deification’ (I need to find a new word) goes against Luther’s ideologies? or is that too hard to address in one paragraph? Maybe its possible to insert semi-briefly within the conclusion?

Bach’s Mass in B minor (and why finding research is so hard)

I decided to take on the Kyrie from Bach’s mass in B minor. I haven’t actually heard the mass before, so I’m really excited to listen to it and find good information about it.

To my surprise though, it’s REALLY hard to find articles about the Mass (at least on Academic Search Premier and JSTOR)!! I found many little 2-3 pages articles (some written in 1888, a little too dated for my purposes…) and some promising articles (only to discover they’re in German. I guess I shouldn’t have taken French…). So as of right now, I have no idea what direction my paper will take.

But, the nice thing is that there do seem to be quite a few good books written about the mass (now whether they’re in our library is the question now…). So, I suspect there will be good information somewhere. But, I’m struggling at the moment to see how i’m going to write a paper that is all that different from the Bach paper I just wrote (basically making Bach a fully sacred composer). The mass is the epitome of sacred music, and Bach certainly composed it that way. So, I’m not sure at this point how I’m going to make a compelling and unique argument about this mass (given what seems to be a lack of good sources).

i know with the tools we’ve been given in this class and St. Olaf, I’ll come up with something good. It just seems quite daunting at the moment! But, all the best arguments were a little unconventional and off the beaten path, so I guess that’s my job to explore that brush as I continue researching.

*Insert Unoriginal, Obvious Thesis Here*

When beginning research on Bach, one must first realize the sheer amount of scholarly resources that exist. There are so many resources because Bach wrote an incredible amount of music in his lifetime. I decided to research Bach’s cantata, Christus, der ist mein Leben, BWV 95. An overview of its Wikipedia article informed me that it draws on multiple chorales from other composers, and a Spotify searched informed me that it is technically gorgeous. A search on Catalyst brought up few specific results. There are books of analyses of Bach cantatas, yet not many on this specific one. The best resources I have found are the resources listed on the Wikipedia, most of which came from a website titled Also included is an essay from John Eliot Gardiner, in which he discusses specific musical motives within the cantata, which will definitely be useful as I try to work out a thesis.

Christus, der ist mein Leben translates as “Christ, you are my life,” and the texts of the cantata contemplate death in a joyful manner, where the choir and the soloists view death as an end to all suffering. Bach adapted four different funeral hymns, fitting for the subject matter.

The difficulty in writing about Bach is not the lack of specific resources, but rather deciding on a thesis, as my peers have stated below. Because Bach was so intentional about his compositions and where he drew melodies and themes from, it seems silly to argue that he was intentional, because to any trained musician, obviously he was. As I delve more into the particular usage of each of these funeral hymns, hopefully I will find inspiration for an arguable thesis about this cantata.

Fürchte dich nicht

Pretty much all I know about this motet is that the St. Olaf Choir performed it in 2015 and that, like most of his motets, Bach composed this for double choir and string consort. The most interesting thing that I have been able to dig up without actually having gone through the score is that there is a lot of controversy over the time and location of its composition—either in Leipzig in 1726 (as a majority of scholars suspect), or earlier in his Weimar period (suggested by newer research and stylistic analysis).

I may talk about its function as a funeral piece, trying to reconcile its seemingly “jubilant” attitude with the sentiment that Bach intended for it and that listeners in his time would have probably recognized. Its reassuring and comforting demeanor situate it well as a funeral piece, even though it may seem inappropriately upbeat to those who don’t know the meaning of the text.

Another source of research could be other settings of similar text, such as Philip Stopford’s Do Not Be Afraid. There are several verses in Isaiah that begin with this source text, “Fear thee not…” but all of the pieces written from them can be said to share a common thread.

Like I said, musical analysis is going to have to play a large part in this project, so I will likely delve into the significance of the two choirs’ interactions with each other, the role of the strings, and the overall deftness of Bach’s setting. Score analysis is everything in a paper like this. Like David said, it’ll be a struggle to turn “Bach is cool” into a legitimate thesis.

Zing it?

So, to be perfectly honest, I chose this motet because the idea of working with a piece I already know was a lot less daunting than trying to get to know a whole cantata or motet in a short time (and I just really needed something new to think about.) However, I adore the Bach motets, so it’s still an exciting topic. One thing that intrigues me is the purpose of this composition. Several sources have suggested that its main function could have been pedagogical. When considering the text of the first and third movements, this makes a lot of sense to me.

Sing to the Lord a new song!
The congregation of the saints shall praise Him,
Israel rejoices in Him, who has created it.
Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
Let them praise His name in dances,
with drums and harps let them play to Him.

Praise the Lord in His works,
praise Him in his great glory.
Everything that has breath, praise the Lord,
Hallelujah! (

What makes me wonder about this theory most is the second movement. I think it’s likely that Bach was thinking pedagogically in terms of texts/faith/theology as much as he was musically, but the text of this middle section is such a drastically different mood. The chorale juxtaposed with commentary feels deep and personal, and the dialogue between the choirs particularly piques my interest. The text makes me wonder if this WAS, in fact, written for a funeral, or with death in mind. Maybe not, but I think it’s worth investigating. So, my plans for continuing research and developing thesis ideas are to look into putting this motet into the context of Bach’s life – especially personal, not just professional, the context of these texts (when would they have been used and what would people associate them with?), what evidence we have of this motet being performed, and to analyze the counterpoint of the motet (perhaps comparing with other works from a similar time but written for other purposes or occasions.)

Bach Again (ha)

With all that’s happened in this class, I feel more comfortable in the research process now. My first paper was easier to research since the thesis and topic dived right into sources about a well researched area of Bach’s works. My second paper gave me more trouble, as its thesis was Bach related, but the topic at hand had almost no scholarship. This next paper should be easier to tackle in the research arena. Given that our topic category is provided, I decided to choose to look at the St. Matthew Passion. I’m not sure what my thesis will be though. After going through some preliminary research, I could take a thematic approach and look into the spirituality of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. I could go the analytical route and see how Bach ties in spirituality into the form of the work. Personally, I’m just intrigued by the many settings of the chorales. Or perhaps I could look into the history in which the piece was performed, considering it’s likely the piece isn’t really a double chorus oratorio in the same way we think in modern times.

My concern lies in trying to find an arguable thesis that’s not obvious in all of this. (“Look, Bach did a cool thing” is not a thesis – David below me.)

Having performed the piece as a soprano in the children’s miniature chorus, I know that this piece is a rich work of art. I just need to do more research to find out what’s worth talking about. I hope to look more into the settings of the chorales within their own contexts as a starting point. If that turns out to be a dead end, I will focus on the relationship between the two choruses and see where that leads me.

Exploring the Religious Significance of Brandenburg Concerto No.5

Fascinated by the other-worldly keyboard capriccio of Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, I devoted my last paper to exploring the religious symbolism of the piece. In this paper, I will continue studying this subject and examine questions reminaed unresolved from the previous essay.

Drawing on Michael Marissen’s writings in The Social and Religious Designs of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, I have evidenced the religious symbolism embedded in the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto with relevant passges from Lutheran theological documents. In the next draft, I would like to bring in broader Lutheran theology on music-makings, especially to demonstrate Luther’s own writings about music, discussed in Robin Leaver’s article ” Luther on music” (Lutheran Quarterly 20/2, 2006: 125-145). An efficient use of this resource will better justify my interpretations of sacred messages from Bach’s “secular” composition.

In addtion, I will also expand the music analysis provided in the current draft. For the moment, I have overviewed the formal structures of each movment and specifically broken down the keyboard cappricio in the first movement in terms of its musical gestures and designs. To further strengthen my argument, I will be drwaing attentions to overall harmonic progressions and musical details in other movements as musical evidences of Bach’s perception and depiction of heaven and earth. Importantly, more comprehensive musical analysis potentially enables a new aspect of my argument. Currently, my thesis centralized on examining how Bach delivered religious messages in the music. However, with closer musical analysis of the piece, I have noticed a recognizable cyclic musical depictions in all movements of Fifth Bradenburg Concerto which starts from the earth, progressing to the heaven, and eventually returned to the earth. Therefore, building on my current argument on the religious metaphors that Bach adapted in his composition, I hope to also prove the religiously transformative listening and performing experience generated from the music.


“Look, Bach did a cool thing” is not a thesis

For this paper, I didn’t originally plan to do a Bach cantata, but since it is strongly suggested I will do so. I had the idea of examining the music of Charles Ives, but upon finding Cantata 66 (Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen, or “Rejoice, ye hearts”) I see that many of the techniques of exegesis are the same for both ideas, just using different music.

While Ives’ music is very accessible to me, as it is written in English and utilizes familiar ideas, Bach’s music was also composed to be very accessible to its audience, rife with musical expression and text painting that highlight the scripture. Though preliminary research, I have found that this cantata has a unique structure that does just this. Written for the second day of Easter, it is largely joyful and upbeat, the majority of the text rejoicing in Jesus’ resurrection and the salvation it brings for humanity. However, it does contain a section in which some of the text is darker. Following the opening joyful chorus and thankfully reassured bass aria comes a section that is a dialogue between two voices at odds with each other. One voice asserts proudly in the second duet that “I do not fear the darkness of the grave” while the other says exactly the opposite. This dialogue of hope and fear shows both sides of the story, but in the end the voice of praise and confidence wins and finishes with assurance in the power of God that leads to the final chorale which glorifies God and pleads for further mercy and consolation.

In terms of the paper and podcast, I see what I could do for the podcast itself, focusing on these ideas and demonstrating how Bach illustrated them with his music. But for the paper, I am still a bit lost when it comes to finding a thesis, since “Look, Bach did this cool thing”, while 100% true, is not very arguable. So far I have not done much research but I am already intrigued by this unique format which seems to convey its point through dialogue and inclusion of dissent that is eventually consoled. I look forward to delving deeper into the music and finding how the meaning within impacted its audiences.

Research: Finding a Needle in a Haystack

This class has humbled me in so many ways. I have found the research process difficult, frustrating, and irrelevant at times. My theses have been reworked over and over again, simply so that they fit with my research findings. This paper topic has been no different. I have flip-flopped between researching two different Bach pieces, both of which have little scholarship, and one of them is even rumored to not have been written by Bach. Needless to say, I need to get started on this paper, so the time has come for me to make a decision on what I want to do.

I am looking into a specific aria of the St. John Passion, “Ich folge dir gleichfalls,” the first soprano aria that describes Peter as a faithful follower of Jesus. Peter declares his love and faithfulness, yet denies knowing Jesus in a scene directly afterwards. There is an interesting parallel between Luther’s teachings of vocation and sin and Bach’s musical setting, and I hope to explore this more in a podcast. The aria is roughly 4 minutes in length, yet still carries enough theological and musical implications that a thorough exegesis could be done. I still fear, however, that searching for research to help me build my argument will be more difficult than I expect. My goal is to find solid religious research and pair it with appropriate musical analysis to show that Bach did know what he was doing in adding this seemingly useless commentary into the passion. There is more than meets the eye (or ear) to this aria, and the St. John Passion is enhanced because of it.

Anabaptists: Everyone hated them I guess

So far, I’ve been researching the Anabaptists and their opinions on women. And, so far, I’ve seen that women were well-respected in their circles (quite literally, during worship) and I’ve concluded that despite the immense drawbacks from joining a persecuted religion, they would have been drawn to Anabaptism. A huge part of this allure was the music of the Anabaptists and their attitudes toward music.

Really, a lot of information on this subject exists, but I don’t have access to all the things I would like to read through. I feel the need to keep reading more and more in order to completely understand the issue backwards and forwards.

But, this comes with a huge drawback: I am not particularly good at explaining things. After I’ve read from fifteen sources on the Anabaptist’s opinions of women worshiping versus the Lutheran’s opinions, I don’t remember which source had which information, which information is not common knowledge, and what I need to outline more specifically in my paper. So, I need to find a better way of documenting every piece of information from every source in order to really keep straight all of the research I’m doing.

That being said, I don’t feel like I’m deep enough into my topic. Yes, it is quite broad, but I hope to expand on it more in an expansion of my original 5 page paper. So far, my research has rendered wonderful results – but they’re almost too perfect. My argument feels very sound, but I don’t feel like my counterarguments are solid enough.

I was given the advice to make the case that Anabaptism was more women – friendly than other religions. While this isn’t really my main point (that being that the music ideology of the Anabaptists would have drawn women in), it is a good way to further solidify my argument. An abundance of information exists comparing the religion with others at the time. However, I wonder if I could add another layer of counterargument to it.

Would the musical ideologies have balanced out the intense persecution they would have faced? I’m not so sure. Quite literally everyone hated the Anabaptists – they were alienated from the start by Luther and by the Catholics, and their opinions on baptism were too extreme for the times. Perhaps the sheer number of women who converted can speak for itself and justify that yes, the benefits outweighed the cost.

I also feel like there could be research out there negating the role of women in Anabaptist churches, and I’d like to look into that. I also would like to talk to at least one member of the Religion faculty here to see if they know anything about it as well. Overall, I think I’d like to take my paper to the next level and make it more believable through in-depth counterarguments.

Reflections on Research and Formality in Writing (it’s not a dichotomy)

I am likely not going to be a higher level academic musicologist than I am right now as I wrap up this 300 level music history class. I took the introductory music history classes as a sophomore and learned about musical terms such as ‘organum,’ ‘antiphonal,’ ‘motet,’ ‘cantata,’ ‘l’homme arme,’ and ‘opera.’ Some of things blurred together or have become filed away somewhere in my brain that needs a bit of coaxing to remember. I lost faith that I would ever actually know with certainty what each of these terms meant in all of their nuance. Then I realized I’ll never know it all, but I might as well start and know a little bit more today than I knew yesterday. I chose to research BWV 140 because the famous Sleeper’s Wake melody is one of my Mom’s favorite melodies and was one of the pieces she had in her wedding. A little personal connection never hurts as a catalyst for podcast-creating-motivation.

Though this topic is definitely of manageable scope (thanks, Prof. Epstein) I still began with the noble Google search: “What is a Bach Cantata.” I know myself and that I always need an accessible point of entry to the topic (read: not incredibly academically/scholarly inclined). So, after reading the wikipedia entries and a few weird websites, I felt confident to jump in…to a Grove search. I read that, “about two-fifths of Bach’s sacred cantatas must be considered lost; of the secular cantatas, more are lost than survive.” There are a lot, so it is surprising that so many have been lost! I learned that Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, is a church chorale intended for the 27th Sunday after Trinity and has text by Philipp Nicolai. (Grove)

I do not plan to write any more music history papers for school in my life (I’m not ruling it out, but signs point to no). However, the hard work required in this process and the gems of knowledge that result in researching and understanding many voices of a topic are rewarding in and of themselves, especially when I have even a slight connection to this cantata. I’m trying to enjoy the research process as I immerse myself in the final music history paper, but I am also really looking forward to the finished podcast product.

Was Jesus a Tenor?

I’m going to have to do a lot of circumlocution in this paper. I suppose that the entire point of this project is to get us to identify musical to theological links on our own. That’s probably going to be what I have to do anyway, because I haven’t found a single verifiable source that talks about BWV 38 explicitly yet. There is obviously lots of scholarship on Bach’s cantatas, much more than there is scholarship on Wycliffe and Hus. As I have thought about the process for this last paper I think that perhaps I was coming at it the wrong way. The point isn’t to get inspired by the work of another. Instead, the task is to find an argument in the music for yourself, and then use argument similar to those of more established scholars as evidence for why our argument is correct.

What I know thus far from my research is that BWV 38 comes from the second Leipzig cantata cycle. It was written for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. I also know that some scholars think it is a rather sad piece, and that the big tenor solo should be omitted. Although I have never been a huge fan of prominent tenor solos, I think the tenor solo in this piece gives it a balance and symmetry that without it the piece would be sorely wanting. The solo also lends itself to deep theological importance. I could see a paper that would focus on the musico-theological connections of this aria alone, despite how much it would pain me to give even more attention to a voice part which too frequently steals the spotlight from its lower brother. 

In summary: although I haven’t found any sources which directly address my piece that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and I might not even need them. If I can find other cases where music historians identify similar musical occurrences in their pieces and link them to a theological argument, I will be able to use their arguments to lend credence to mine.  

A Leap of Faith

Just today, in fact, I finally committed to doing my final paper and podcast on Bach’s Ich freue mich in dir BWV 133 in the spirit of the holiday season. I’m still just beginning the research process, which can be a bit daunting especially since I’m not familiar with the piece I’m writing about. With my past papers, I haven’t stepped too boldly out of my comfort zone in terms of topics, but this topic is going to force me to take a leap of faith and challenge myself to think critically about a piece I’ve never thought about before.

One of the main things that has jumped out to me about this cantata so far is the fact that the author of the poem Bach used, Caspar Ziegler, is apparently not very well-known. This is a bit hard to believe considering Bach made his poem quite famous with his cantata, but all of the sources I’ve seen so far make Ziegler out to be someone with very little experience in the arts. I think it would be interesting to research the meaning behind the text from the author’s point of view, which is something I hope to do.

I have really enjoyed reading about all of the imagery in this cantata as well. At this point, I’m struggling with which direction I should take my paper since I’d like my paper to focus on imagery within the piece. With this topic, I’m having a difficult time coming up with a thesis that isn’t too standard but also isn’t too complex. So far I’ve considered discussing imagery in terms of instruments and voices used, direct biblical connections and representation, or arguing the imagery used does not depict the biblical text accurately (which I’m not sure I agree with, but it could potentially be fun writing a paper this way). I know I have a lot of work to do, and I’m sure my topic will narrow itself down as I delve further into research

How many more times will I use the phrase “Luther’s hymnody” in this paper?

I’m starting the process of expanding my first paper, which was about Luther’s Christ lag in Todes Banden chorale and its medieval musical roots. I considered a couple different ideas for how to expand the scope or depth of my paper- my first thought was to continue exploring how the Victimae/Christ lag melody was used after Luther’s time; maybe by examining later works that quoted the melody. However, I was worried that pursuing this line of research wouldn’t fit with the core of my original argument, and that the paper would turn into more of a narrative re-telling of where the melody has been through the centuries, when it should instead be an expanded, thesis-driven analysis.

So I’ve chosen to go a different route, and contextualize the Christ lag chorale a bit more fully. Hopefully I will be able to make some larger claims about Luther’s hymnody that use Christ Lag (and maybe another chorale tune or two) as an example/examples. I’m starting off by trying to find information on some questions that remained unanswered in my first version. These questions are:

  • Luther’s chorale text shares some images with the text of the original sequence, but are there significant differences between the two texts that reflect Luther’s new theological ideas?
  • How many of Luther’s chorales had similar roots in Catholic liturgical music? Exploring this question could either strengthen my thesis (by showing that Luther preserved a great deal of earlier tunes) or bring up a counterargument that is worth addressing (that the inclusion of melodies with medieval roots was inconsequential, rare, or not generally representative of Luther’s hymn-writing process).
  • How significant was Christ ist erstanden to the development of Christ Lag in Todes Banden? I essentially dismissed its influence in my first version of the paper, but I’d like to find a source that gives more information about the hymn or about leise in general.
  • What other information can I find about hymn-singing practices in Luther’s congregations? The tidbits I found about the ways Luther’s hymns were sung and incorporated into worship were really interesting to me, and more information might shed some more light on how churches actually experienced new worship music in contrast with previous traditions.

Gender and Sexuality in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

As usual, I am having trouble locating the niche in musicology where the scholarship I want can be found. At this time, I have tried everything I can think of to find writing on what I KNOW must be an issue, but have barely found anything. I found a book by Markus Rathey, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, that sounds like it could have what I’m looking for. I found an excerpt of the book on google books, but otherwise, it’s not in the library, nor does it appear to be available via Interlibrary Loan. I thought the book would be especially useful for locating other sources, but from the footnotes I can see in the preview, lots of Rathey’s sources are quite heavy-sounding and/or in German.

In searches on Catalyst and journal databases (I’ve tried Academic Search Premier, Gender Watch, and Music Periodicals Database), I have been using different combinations and Boolean arrangements of the following search terms:

Christmas Oratorio
BWV 248

All of these searches have come up with either unrelated articles or exactly nothing.

So I’m not really sure where to go from here. I will try going to the music library and just flipping through the table of contents pages of as many Bach books as I can. This strategy has worked with some of my other music history research when I couldn’t find the right search terms.

I’m planning to research either the first or the fourth cantata from the Christmas Oratorio.

In Part I, I would focus on the “Christ as Bridegroom” trope. It is everywhere in the text, and so are some very interesting phrases like “Supreme Ruler” and “Lord/King,” which have their own gendered, even colonialist implications. The lack of interest in Mary in this text and the simultaneous focus on unborn/newborn Jesus’s pleasure would also be interesting ideas to pursue. The sections that refer to the bridegroom are both sung by an alto soloist (the first in recitative, and the second in aria form).

In Part IV, the text focuses on Jesus’ circumcision, which seems like a strange thing to be singing about at length. There is also another long section about being Christ’s beloved, including the representation of him as bridegroom. Some of the language in this cantata borders on literal sensual desire for Jesus (“I look to you longingly”/”I shall call you enchanting, since breast and heart are enflamed with love for you”). Finally, this cantata uses a soprano in duet with an echo soprano and a bass (at separate times) during some of the aforementioned sections. I would like to investigate what the choice of the female voice (or at least female-sounding, even if a woman wouldn’t have been the performer) does for the cantata and why Bach made that choice.

It’s also possible there are gendered connections to Bach’s previous works that he used to write the oratorio, but I have not seen anything about this.

Researching the Absolute

I’m working on expanding my first paper that I wrote about absolute music. I argued initially that absolute music is no more or less valid an idea than any religious cosmology of music. I am sticking with that argument, but have been delighted to discover the strange affinity between religious thought and atheistic Idealism like Schopenhauer’s. Both the theologians I’m researching (particularly Augustine) and the advocates of absolute music (Schopenhauer, E.T.A. Hoffman, Hanslick) were all extremely influenced by Pythagorean thought.

I’ve found some really interesting books further deepening my interest in aesthetics, particularly a book called Theology as Performance by a Professor Emeritus Philip Stoltzfus, right here at St. Olaf. I’ve also found that some musicologists have a very reductive approach to theology, like David Whitwell in his “Aesthetics of Music in the Middle Ages”. He basically asserts that Thomas Aquinas contributed nothing to Philosophy but a confusion of Aristotle and inane ramblings about angels. Certainly the usefulness of Aquinas is up for debate, but Whitwell’s treatment of him hearkens back to Bertrand Russel’s assertion that medieval philosophy isn’t worth considering. Whitwell’s philosophical understanding is rather dated, which is a common problem I am finding in musicology.

That said, I am very much enjoying my research. I feel very good about my argument. Christian theology provides an interesting point of comparison for absolute music, and its discussion can tease out aesthetic implications that are often forgotten or left unconsidered.


Mathis der Maler Part 2

Now that I have spent a month since I first started researching Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler for my second podcast, I am now moving on to my final project and am continuing my work for the final paper. I have come across a number of problems with this paper that I have not always had in the past. I have mostly struggled with trying to clear my argument from other authors that have written about Hindemith’s opera, and also trying to distinguish my argument that the religious implications of the work are separate from the political ones that have so often been talked about in terms of the work. I have found that it is easy to find myself writing and working in such a way that I think I am making a point about the religious implications, but it ends up sounding like an argument in favor of the opposing thesis almost as much. This is probably why so many authors have for so long talked solely about the political context and implications of the work.

I am trying not to let this discourage me too much however. Now that I have more space with which to work within the paper I am going to aim to add more religious background which is actually going to be redirect me back away from the musical side of the paper for a bit before returning to it. When I wrote my second draft of the shorter paper on this subject I was able to, I think more successfully, add to the musical and dramatic evidence for my argument and situate the argument in the context of the opera itself. But now I need to re-situate the work in the broader religious context of both Reformation and 1930s Germany. I am a bit worried about the latter because I think it may be difficult to successfully provide an appropriate background to the religious context for a work like this. It seems it may be a bit difficult to prove or directly link the opera to the religious background of the time with any certainty. Hopefully though, if I am able to achieve this, I will be able to successfully build a more coherent argument that fully supports the possibility that there is religious importance and meaning to the work that is completely separate from the political implications.