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Begging for mercy can humble a person: the Bach Mass in B Minor can bring us to our better selves

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Begging for mercy can humble a person: the Bach Mass in B Minor can bring us to our better selves

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor is thrilling to experience. Period. On October 27, starting at 3 p.m. and ending around 5:30 p.m., cradled within the sun drenched, vaulted Sanctuary of Second Presbyterian Church at 77th and Meridian streets, an overflow congregation undertook, underwent the journey, the voyage, the odyssey beginning with the primeval, elongated, crashing gut wail—Ky-ri-e…Ky-ri-e…Ky-ri-e  E-le-i-son. 

Lo-r-d…Lo-r-d…Lo-r-d Ha-ve-mer-cyyyyy, 

until we hit the wall with one final soaring avalanche of sound-cascades like falling stars, into an angelic closing invocation— pacem/peace, follows us out the door, cradled inside our better selves,

The Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, and four soloists gripped us within the whirlwind of supplication until a whisp of breath floated us into this eternal hopefulness.  Eric Stark expertly conducted us, along with the singers and players, in this soul-searching undertaking. Who am I to ask for mercy on behalf of myself, on behalf of all humanity at this time, at this place, in the midst of so much  worldwide chaos? Why are we at this point? Why is the cry for mercy a continuum?

Quit asking, start doing. That nagging voice inside the head; some call it ‘Jiminy Cricket’ 

But, I plead, I need a blueprint if I’m supposed to build a better world. I need a better map, since my going out up until now has led to dead ends on an intended path to good stewardship of place, of all creatures great and small, of all peoples as a common humanity.  I’m one small person in a large crowd.  I’m arguing with God. Hello, wherever you are, the least you can do is hand me a google prop. Right?  Wrong. 

Monday morning, I’m still trying to figure out how once again I can make this jumbled up mess a better world. No matter that Bach set me up, dangling me from the claws of an eagle—a human drone seeing awfulness. No matter that I’ve been swallowed into the belly of a whale—a human experiencing debasement.

Bach’s Mass thrusts me into everything I know, being kind, averting sloth, yearning for hopefulness when hatred is the newest normal. I feel unhinged in the wake of the enormity of this calling, this challenge. Is it a set up for failure? Bach’s Mass is as massive as a Wagner opera, as terrifying as space travel, as jarring  as a whack on the side of my head. Part of me advises, Job-like, get on with it. Part of me argues back. Who said I’m a major part of the clean up crew in this messy world?

Bach’s structure of  twenty-seven movements grouped into four overarching parts textualises the challenge. I can lay out all my short comings, explain I’m way over my head in this task of ‘make this a better world,’ complain it’s too hard. However, in the grip of this monumental vocal-instrumental work, the call to act is clear. If ordinary singers and players in Indianapolis can pull off Bach’s Mass in B Minor as a superlative rendition of a monumental work, the least I can do is make my own road map and every day do something transformative, something positive  for the greater good — go beyond the easy route I’ve been taking so far.

There is a universality of need within the context between Bach’s opening HELP! and closing wistful whew. Every day I am given another chance to be of value in a world that does not always value me. It’s especially good timing to be gifted with Bach’s Mass now. I can relate most heartily. In the advent to the Jewish New Year, I empty my pockets of metaphorical behavioral crumbs. In the same way that it’s bad form to pop your clothing into the washer with pockets filled with crumbs—it’s not good form to start a new year with old, crummy behavior. It’s not a mere ticking off resolutions I’ll around to, maybe. It’s an emphatic call to duty. “Master of the Universe, fulfill my heartfelt requests for good,” goes the prayer in my upbringing. Bach, too, bares his soul; he outlines the human condition; he demonstrates the trajectory of musical genres; he calls us to duty with the sternest voice, sprinkles in a dance tune, lightens the load with a rainbow, demands a review, pats us on the head, assures, yes you can, just try. No matter that he took a lifetime to fashion this rap on the knuckles song of mortality. A good name, recalled with pride and joyfulness is the only promise of mortality, he intuits. What we do in life has consequence, he promises. This Mass was Bach’s final great work. He died before achieving perfection, but he didn’t shirk from the challenge toward it. 

Thank you, Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, soloists Chloe Boelter, Rebecca Powers, Dann Coakwell, and Daren Small, conductor Eric Stark, chorus master Michael Davis, IBO artistic director Bartholdi Kuijken, and everyone else connected with this offering.  No shirkers here.

Up next for Indianapolis Symphonic Choir:

Release of a new CD, Festival of Carols featuring soprano Sylvia McNair, Nov. 8, 

Warren Performing Arts Center: 

Festival of Carols, Dec. 7 & 8

The Palladium at the Center for Performing Arts: 

Handel: Messiah, with Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Dec. 19

Festival of Carols, Dec. 20-22

Up next for Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra:

The Messiah, Second Presbyterian Church, Dec. 8,

Want to learn more? Go here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_in_B_minor_structure

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-13-attributes-of-mercy/

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