Bach Before Five

On BBC Radio 3’s early breakfast programme there is particular sequence I enjoy, Bach Before Seven. It leads up to the first main news bulletin at 7am in UK (8am for me) and often gets me in a swinging mood as I prepare for my day, unless a more contemplative piece is played in which case I will deepen the meditative space I cultivate each morning. On one of my shifts at the church Bach Before Seven was delightfully followed by an unexpected Bach Before Five.

It was a wet and miserable day. I had closed the doors to keep out the gusts of wind and the rain beating relentlessly upon the doors and windows. All through the day, bedraggled tourists tumbled into the armoury seeking shelter from the wild meteorological elements and something to do on an island more suited for dry sunny days and leisurely walks in the woods.

Twenty minutes before closing time, a group of six Germans turned up huddled together in their drenched outdoor gear. When informed that the church would be closing shortly, they offered huge smiles saying that this was fine, in fact a blessing. A small group of other dishevelled visitors were gathered in the church quietly sitting in the pews and basking in the quietness.

After a couple of minutes, a young man came forward asking if he could play the organ. He immediately added that he was a Kappel Meister in the Black Forest caring for and curating three organs in major cities. Albeit modest, he was clearly someone with huge credentials and the eagerness radiating from his face was contagious. After a slight hesitation, I knew to hand him over the key.

Within short he had settled himself in front of the organ, attuned to its specifics, and was ready to play for us. I noticed the brief moment as he gathered himself, in reverence and joy, before pouring himself into the music. He first played the well-known Bach Fugue in A minor, BWV 959, his whole being emanating the lightness woven into the notes and rhythm. The church immediately lit up, pulsating with lightness and joy, pushing back the gloomy weather.

After this rejuvenating piece, on the recommendation of his father and teacher, he tackled one of Bach’s most intricate pieces, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 563. The effect was amazing and the church was infilled with the darkness and lightness threaded into the music reflecting Bach’s sensitivities and genius. Again, there was depth and expansiveness in the rendering by the young German organist and the church was reverberating with the fullness of his artistic expression. Those present dropped into the spaciousness of the experience and we all enjoyed a rare moment of intimacy offered by this gifted organist. The improvised concert finished just as the 5 o’clock bells started to ring, announcing the conclusion of the day.

Bach Before Five called us into spaces of stillness and spaciousness wherein we were able to listen to the fullness of life arising in us, as world. There was much beauty and much love to be shared amongst us, generously and without restraint.