My love affair with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach began in grammar school. Neither my mother nor father were classical music fans. They were mostly Big Band and Montovani fans. My sister was given piano lessons but I was never afforded such an opportunity. So, where did such passion for the music of ‘the greatest composer that ever lived’ come from? The spark for this love was ignited at Church. We were fortunate to have a wonderfully talented music director in our suburban Catholic parish in the 1950’s. The extremely modest little Baldwin electronic organ accompanied the choir as they sang the weekly Missa Cantata. Every now and then, Bach would be played on what could only be described as ‘an appliance!’ Nevertheless, I was hooked. In High School, a great mentor in music and the arts was an aficionado of the organ and would take me to organ recitals. Because of ‘Mr. Diaz’s’ mentoring, I was fortunate to hear some of the great organists of the 20th century in recital. I will never forget a recital given by the then organiste titulare of Notre Dame, the legendary, Pierre Cochereau. He concluded his recital by receiving a sealed envelope from the music director of the church. In it was a simple one line melody from which he improvised a spine-tingling organ symphony! The last time I saw Maestro Cochereau was at the dedication of the Hazel Wright Memorial organ in the then “Crystal Cathedral.” Providentially, as one of the liturgical consultants on our Diocesan Christ Cathedral project, I was privileged to chair the restoration committee for “Hazel.” The two-year restoration is now completed and the great organ awaits installation in its new home in the renovated Christ Cathedral in 2018.
One of the memorable moments in hearing the organ music of Bach occurred while I was pursuing post graduate studies in Europe. I was in Paris with friends and attended the Easter Vigil at the incredibly beautiful Church of St-Séverin on the Left Bank. The extended Liturgy of the Word was completed as well as the Baptisms of the Elect. All was readied for the Liturgy of the Eucharist to begin. As the gifts were brought to the Holy Table, the organist began Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G-major as the altar and gifts were reverenced with clouds of fragrant incense. A veritable glimpse of heaven!