Chamber Singers recognize Maundy Thursday with Bach

On Maundy Thursday in church tradition, Christ washed the feet of his disciples. Baylor's Chamber Singers will perform a Bach cantata to perform their own act of service to the campus community. Photo credit: Courtesy Photo

Washing feet and Johann Sebastian Bach may not seem to have much in common. But this Maundy Thursday, the Chamber Singers are serving fellow students with Bach in the same spirit that Jesus served his disciples by washing their feet.

The Chamber Singers, accompanied by a string ensemble and organist Jillian Gardner, will celebrate Maundy Thursday this week with a concert at noon Thursday in Armstrong Browning Library. The student ensemble, which usually performs Renaissance and Contemporary compositions, will be singing Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata No. 4, “Christ lag in Todes Banden,” or “”Christ Lay in Death’s Bonds.”

Maundy Thursday, which falls the day before Good Friday in the church calendar, is the anniversary of Christ’s Last Supper. “Maundy” is derived from the Latin “mandatum,” or “commandment.” In the Christian tradition, Christ’s commandment during this last meal with his disciples was to remember his sacrifice and to serve one another—as he did by washing their feet.

Tempe, Ariz., graduate student Brennan Michaels, who is working toward his master’s in conducting, will direct the ensemble. Michaels said the Chamber Singers aim to turn the performance into an act of Christ-like service for the campus.

“Ultimately, we do it for people. This isn’t just a performance for the School of Music,” Michaels said. “It’s a spiritual time for people to come and reflect on what is the most foundational week of the Christian tradition.”

Kerrville freshman Rachel McCormick, a member of Chamber Singers, said the choral ensemble’s small size makes it appropriate for the intimate and somber tone of the cantata.

“The piece is very fitting for this time of year because it’s very serious and solemn,” McCormick said. “It’s a piece that you can really get lost in, because there are duets, solos and two-part pieces.”

Bach’s cantata was originally composed for an Easter celebration in Germany in 1707. The words and music of the choral composition are based on a hymn by Martin Luther of the same name, which celebrates the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ.

Rev. Erin Conaway, the pastor of Seventh and James Baptist Church, will provide a Lenten Meditation to accompany the service.

“I think as Baptists, we too quickly skip from Palm Sunday celebration to the Easter celebration and neglect the shadows of the Holy Week,” Conway said. “The music is going to be incredible. We all nurture our souls in different ways. Not everyone is going to hear God speak through music. But for those of us who do, this is a great opportunity to focus in guided meditation during Holy Week.”