Weekend report: Bethlehem (PA) bound

My big adventure this weekend was very different from last week’s Taylor Swift concert, but it was still musical!

Longtime readers/listeners know that I love Bach’s B-Minor Mass. I learned it my junior year of college to sing with my choir there, but then I elected to study abroad in Australia, and I needed to leave for their “fall” semester a week before the performance. In my youth I assumed I’d get to sing the mass again.

Except I haven’t. My church choir was going to perform it in spring of 2020, but you know how that went. I’ve gone to see it performed whenever I can. Singing the B-Minor Mass makes an appearance on my List of 100 Dreams, but while some dreams are straightforward (buy yourself a plane ticket!), singing a massive choral work with an orchestra is hard to pull off on your own.

Anyway, I was just minding my own business this week, checking my email, when I saw an email from the Bach Choir of Bethlehem (that would be Bethlehem, PA). They’d sung a concert at my church maybe six years ago or so, and I’d bought a ticket, so I was on the mailing list. I opened it and saw that they were singing the B-Minor Mass as part of their annual Bach festival which was running in the Bethlehem area over the last two weeks.

It seemed like I could probably make the Saturday afternoon performance at Lehigh University, which is approximately 50 miles from me (part 1 at 1 p.m.; part 2 at 2:30 p.m.). So I bought a ticket and drove there.

B-Minor Mass fangirl that I am, I brought my score. So I followed the score through the whole performance.* I mostly enjoyed it! Some tiny quibbles (what can I say, I’ve listened to a lot of recordings and have developed certain preferences…) but the orchestra was great, the choir never fell apart (it can happen on the melismas!), the men’s parts were quite strong, and the music is Bach at his best.

Anyway, the Bach choir is a very serious choir, but it is also an amateur choir — meaning one can audition for it, and it meets 50 miles away from me. Not close, but also not in Hawaii. I think they perform the B-Minor Mass fairly frequently. So, something to keep my eye on for possibly crossing this off my bucket list someday.

In other news: On Sunday afternoon I took my 11-year-old shopping for summer clothes and swimsuits. We managed to get her a lot of clothes, and I thought I might look for me, but then just…didn’t. So, no progress on the summer wardrobe.

However, I did finish Mansfield Park, a few days ahead of schedule (I figure it’s OK to sprint at the end; when I had 40 pages to go I just kept going). I then read some of the commentary in the appendix, and one author posited that it was one of the most significant novels in the English language. I wonder if part of that is self-congratulatory thinking for folks who made it through! Emma is next up on my list. I’m considering slowing my required pace a bit as I am ahead of schedule. I had calculated 10 pages a day based on the total page numbers in my completed works set, but the online page count I saw when I bought it must have been based on the appendixes/commentary.

*Generally looking at the second soprano part for the choral pieces. Big chunks of the mass are written for 5-part chorus, with the soprano part being split.

15 thoughts on “Weekend report: Bethlehem (PA) bound

    1. @Caroline – congrats to your son! The Bach festival was running over the previous two weeks, so maybe they just slipped in to use the church before they needed it for the Baccalaureate… Very exciting for you guys!

  1. Oh I love that! We saw a stage production of Anna Karenina this weekend and oh my goodness, I nearly ugly cried. I couldn’t speak at the end, the staging was incredible, they highlighted Anna’s son in a heartbreaking way, just absolutely perfect (except the costumes… we saw Macbeth in Feb and the costumes were so interesting, these were meh, maybe a different costumer). I couldn’t speak as I left the theatre, one of the ushers gave me a very sympathetic smile. So powerful. Theatre always feels worth it to me in a way that music / films don’t.

      1. Anna Karenin has stuck in my memory from high school lit class as my least favourite book – I remember thinking that these people should all get over themselves! I’m kind of curious to re-read now and see if my opinion that the only who was even halfway sensible was Levin still holds…

        1. Oh definitely. Levin was the only sensible one. My husband whispered at the interval “does anyone end up happy?” and I said “only Levin and Kitty”.

      2. Me too, I read it when sick my first year of college, and feel like it would make a good winter reading project.

  2. Fellow Bach fangirl here. Also amateur pianist and trying to play as much of his solo piano work as possible. Interested in your goal of trying to listen to all of Bach. Part of the challenge is I think Bach is the most transcribed composer (and even transcribed some of his own work to different instruments), so there will be multiple versions of many pieces. The pianist Angela Hewitt played all of his original solo piano works (so nothing that was originally written for the organ, for example) over 12 recitals. It was supposed to happen 2016-2020, but the last two recitals were interrupted by the pandemic. But she did finish in 2022 and I flew out to New York City from Los Angeles just to hear one of the recitals. This article has a set list of all 12 recitals, so it’s somewhere to start (scroll to end): https://ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/local-arts/pianist-angela-hewitt-embarks-on-a-bach-odyssey-12-recitals-over-4-years

    1. @Agnes – so cool that you made the trip to listen to the recital! I think that’s a great reason to travel. Not the where but the what. I have been finding some compilations and I also will work through the BMV list, I imagine. I haven’t entirely sorted it out, but I’ll have time (I’m going to finish the Jane Austen reading early).

  3. You have inspired me to listen to Beethoven’s complete works. I have enjoyed revisiting so many of his works. Thank you for sharing your goals with us as you provide me with so many ideas!

    1. @Elizabeth – a very cool project! I’m hoping I can pull off the Bach one next year.

  4. I think a 50 minute commute to a choir is very do-able in your future! We spent the fall driving our son 50 min each way to baseball practice 2x / week so even ridiculous driving is possible when it’s a priority. 😉

    1. @Calee- well, 50 miles not 50 minutes. It’s more like an hour and 10 minutes, and if I happened to hit traffic that could be worse. But we shall see!

  5. You should be able to sprint through Emma. It is so much more fun than Mansfield Park. I just wish I could read it again for the first time, not knowing what is going to happen. I hope you enjoy it. Also the 2020 film was brilliant. Last film I saw in the cinema before the pandemic and I went twice I loved it so much1

  6. Yes, the Bach Choir in Bethlehem is well worth the drive! (And we got married in that chapel at Lehigh …graduate students in the math department, which at that time was in Christmas-Saucon Hall, right behind the Packer Chapel…ahh, memories..)

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