. Bach's Amazing Journey In the autumn of 1705, when Johann Sebastian Bach was 20, he set out to travel over 275 miles (each way) on foot from Arnstadt, Thuringia, in the heart of what is now Germany, to Lübeck, near the Baltic coast. He undertook this extraordinary journey in order to meet and study the music of Lübeck’s famous organist, Dietrich Buxtehude. Christoph, dear brother, I am hale and pray That Ohrdruf’s churchmen treat you with good will. I write you now in dread of condemnation But duty-bound to share this information: I’ve left my post in Arnstadt---just until I meet the great composer of our day. I speak of Buxtehude, brilliant master Of preludes, fugues and sacred choral hymns. He dwells a two-week walk far to the north In Lübeck whither I now venture forth On foot. I’ll not complain of aching limbs Nor how a horse might help me get there faster! I am impelled to seek the Maestro’s teaching And edify my art through his keen skill. For Advent he has several concerts planned. I shall attend to hear his works first-hand. I pray my soul, attentive to God’s will, Finds Him through music, ever higher reaching! You scold I’ll lose my post as organist. Well Arnstadt’s elders did approve my leave, But four short weeks from church is all they’ll bless. My absence must be sixteen weeks---no less. They may indeed dismiss me. But don’t grieve--- For other needful churches must exist! My failure to seek Buxtehude now Would cost my learning from God’s own musician Whose compositions capture the divine! I am but twenty. He is sixty-nine. His winter skirts the spring of my ambition As he steps forth to take his final bow. My purse holds just twelve thalers. But my heart Rejoices just as Zion’s watchmen cry! It’s possible my plans could all unravel It’s true that there are fearsome risks to travel But still the Holy Spirit bids me try. And what, Christoph, would you do for your art? I know you think too much is sacrificed--- That my strange pilgrimage should be arrested But I am driven, seeking what I should. This wandering shall do my spirit good--- My forty years of desert where I’m tested And, proving faith, may hear the voice of Christ. Don’t wonder further why a Bach should plod These weary miles answering a call Despite the cost, the burdens and the pain. My answer, Christoph, in words clear and plain Is Soli Deo gloria---My all Is to give forth my very best for God. . Poet's Notes Soli Deo gloria means Glory to God alone. Johann Sebastian Bach inscribed these words on each piece of music that he composed. Bach’s brother, Johann Christoph Bach, was 14 years his elder and head of the Bach family after Bach’s mother and father died in 1694 and 1695 respectively. Arnstadt’s church fathers rebuked J.S. Bach upon his return from Lubeck for his unauthorized leave of absence and his unfamiliar innovations in music. In particular they criticized him for making “strange variations in the chorale, mixing many outlandish tones in it so that the congregation has become confused thereby." Bach left Arnstadt in 1706 upon obtaining a new position at Blasius Church in Mühlhausen. In 1935, Arnstadt’s “New Church” was renamed “Bach Church.” . . On Singing Bach's Mass in B Minor The harmonies are so intense they burn--- As if the Holy Ghost composed this Mass And meant it to ignite the soul, to turn The devil’s weapons into fragile glass That shatters from these echoes of God’s mind! There is no room for evil in the wake Of soul-sung notes and heartfelt words combined. The music is so beautiful I shake With wonder at the power of the Trinity As if Christ whispered to the great Baroque Composer who wrought disciplined-divinity And built cathedrals with each brilliant stroke Of quill to manuscript. As trumpets blare The melody, our counter-song’s a nod Not only to the brotherhood we share But to the very glory of how God Breathed into life a masterpiece not meant For Leipzig only or the German nation But for mankind. Just listen! Heaven sent Such genius as composed this vast creation--- A mass which breathes of Life for those who pray, And weep and strive and yearn and vocalize--- It feeds us as we bow our kyrie And bids us in our suffering to rise, Our searching souls aspiring ever higher To cut through time and space as with a sword! We pray as if with voices cleansed with fire For Bach’s work sings the glory of the Lord. . . Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.