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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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October 5, 2006

A tradition in music

You don’t spend more than six hours in church on a Saturday listening to organ recitals and a choir and orchestra concert without leaving with your head spinning just a bit.

The “Bach at Saint Peter’s Festival” in the Midtown section of New York City’s Manhattan on September 30 provided pure joy for lovers of Baroque music in a setting that literally stops people on the street to check out what’s going on. (Click here to read a review from the New York Times)

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church at 629 Lexington Ave. has offered the festival in late September-early October since 1993. “Not only is this a celebration of the great music of the Leipzig master,” according to the event’s program, “but for Saint Peter’s Church it is a celebration of the music of the greatest composer in the Lutheran tradition, a tradition which lives on today at St. Peter’s Church.”

Now comes the full disclosure—Thomas Schmidt, the parish’s director of music since 1990, is my brother-in-law. His sister (my wife) and I have attended the festivals several times over the years, each one seemingly better than the last.

St. Peter’s is located in the first and lower level of the Citicorp skyscraper. The modern sanctuary is viewable through two windows at sidewalk level, with the Klais organ in its free-standing oak case towering over the scene.

Bach’s works dominated the three organ recitals. The twist this year came in three Bach suites played on a marimba. The highlight of the day, however, was the evening performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. A 20-plus piece orchestra accompanied the choir, consisting of both professional and amateur voices.

Performance of the beautiful, challenging piece also marked a tradition in my wife’s family. Her maternal grandfather, George Weller, produced portions of the mass while serving in the 1920s and early 1930s in various musical capacities in Fort Wayne, Ind. A premature death prevented him from conducting the entire piece. Last Saturday his work was finished by a grandson.

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