It would be amiss to chronicle this study abroad without a discussion of music. Through great timing and a bit of luck, we found ourselves immersed within the famous Bachfest this past week and were treated to the sweet sounds of Europe’s finest. And though the city may be filled with classical music, we also found time to hear some modern performances and get a holistic overview of Leipzig’s music scene.
Bachfest began in 1904 to commemorate the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, one of Germany’s most famous composers who spent much of his musical life in Leipzig. Bach is revered for his work as the Thomaskantor, or director of the church’s boys choir and all other music activities, in Leipzig’s famous St. Thomas Kirche during the mid-1700s. He contributed a multitude of works for organ, choral, and instrumental ensembles and much of his music is still played today around the world. Leipzig hosts over 100 concerts in his image throughout the week, and while Bach’s works are performed alongside those of other famous composers such as Mendelssohn, Vivaldi, and Telemann, it is truly “his festival”.
I am very grateful to have seen five performances throughout Bachfest and was truly fascinated by the overall experience. With venues spanning from the Nikolaikirche, St. Thomas Kirche, and a special performance stage on the Markt, I was able to encounter a variety of music in different settings. As a musician, it was so captivating to see some of the very unique instruments, such as 17th century wind instruments and huge church organs, along with European performance styles employed in each performance. One of the most moving moments from all the concerts was the group singing (in German!) during the Saturday afternoon Motet in the St. Thomas Kirche. I did not anticipate audience participation as part of the program but was taken back by the sheer volume of the whole group. Music has the special power of bringing all different types of people together, and the memory of doing so in German is something that I will remember far beyond this trip. With fluttering sopranos and mellow basses all around, I couldn’t help but smile as we filled the church with our joyous sound.
Our interDaF program coordinators arranged a variety of cultural excursions and events throughout our time here in Leipzig and one such of these events was an exclusive performance by LOT (for further reading see www.lotmusik.de). The group treated us to a performance last Monday night at a local restaurant near the University of Leipzig’s campus, and though we weren’t exactly sure what to expect, it turned out to be a great time! They performed a variety of their repertoire and even treated us to some songs that have yet to be released. As we danced and sang a mere few feet from the stage, my thoughts drifted back to the Motet. Once again, we were singing in German. I doubt that any of the song would’ve made much sense to me before this trip, and while there’s still much I didn’t understand, it was very rewarding to understand their general meanings after three weeks of intensive German study.
To think this is normal in the Musikstadt of Leipzig! I unfortunately have not the space to discuss the Jugendsinfonieorchester, or Leipzig Youth Orchestra, along with the Irish music scene present during the Gotik-Treffen weekend. There’s so much music to explore, whether it’s perusing the scene in Philadelphia or encountering a new culture in Europe. Sometimes it may seem daunting where and when one should begin exploring something like music culture, but if I’ve learned one thing while studying here, it’s to jump right in and find out!