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.


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?