Something extraordinary is happening in Glasgow! For the last couple of years now, the Glasgow Bach Cantata Project has been putting on fantastic performances of Bach’s sacred cantatas. The aim of the project is to perform all 200+ cantatas.  Many people are involved. Musicians give up their time to learn, practise and perform this amazing music under the marvellous directorship of conductors Frikki Walker and Michael Bawtree. There are, of course, also people working hard behind the scenes – serving as committee members and keeping the website up to date, for example. And there are others who help out with stage management and front of house work at each concert. This massive undertaking is ably managed by Geraldine Mynors and has the internationally renowned Bach scholar Professor John Butt as its patron.  Glasgow City Mission is honoured and deeply grateful to be chosen as the beneficiary of the project.

So far concerts have been held in St Mary’s Cathedral, St Bride’s Church Hyndland, St Margaret’s Scottish Episcopal Church Newlands and Govan and Linthouse Parish Church. It has been my privilege to be a part of the choir on several occasions now. I love learning the music (which can be tricky!) and taking part in the concerts. It is very exciting to work alongside such talented musicians – professionals, students and fellow amateurs alike. Currently, there are four concerts a year, and it’s astonishing to think that it will take about twenty years to perform all the cantatas the great composer wrote. On Sunday 28 April the 12th concert took place in Glasgow Cathedral. It was a marvellous occasion as we had singers from the Faroe Islands joining the choir and there were extra instrumentalists to help out.

Bach wrote most of the cantatas when he was the organist and director of music at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany in the 18th century. He wrote for choir, soloists and orchestra and the pieces were intended to be performed each week at church services and festivals. The music, which is astonishing in its variety, takes us through the liturgical year and the emotional highs and lows of the spiritual journey. The words are taken from sacred poetry and often from Scripture. Here, for example, are words taken from Cantata BWV 124, which was performed at the 10thconcert on Sunday 28 January at St Bride’s Church in Hyndland.

As long as a drop of blood
moves in my heart and veins
Jesus alone will be

my life and my all.
My Jesus who has done such great things for me:
I can offer nothing but my body and life

As a gift to him.

For Bach, these cantatas were acts of worship; they were intended to bring performers and listeners alike closer to God. At the end of his manuscripts he would write the words Soli Deo Gloria – glory to God alone.

Something extraordinary is happening in Glasgow! God’s glory is being proclaimed through the wonderful music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and Glasgow City Mission guests are the beneficiaries of the generosity of those who come to the concerts. The next concert is to be held on Saturday 22 June 2024 at 7pm in St Bride’s Church in Hyndland. I do hope you will be able to come! Soli Deo Gloria!

Marion Carson, Chaplain