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Music faith & politics Regina's Luther Bach Choir.

ON SEPTEMBER 8, 2007, the Luther Bach Choir celebrated its 25th anniversary with a reunion of former members. Successive formations of the LBC can take a bow for 25 years of musical performances of a truly impressive calibre, and for the tremendous spiritual, cultural and political importance of the choir's contribution to Regina. The LBC is an initiative of Luther College, which has been part of Saskatchewan's fabric since 1913. Dimension's Joyce Green interviewed conductor Carl Cherland and choir member Meredith Cherland to explore how LBC musical production is infused with a politics of citizenship in community, a politics originating in a radical faith tradition.



The LBC focuses on Baroque music, a form of European music that was dominant from about 1600 to 1750. Martin Luther lived, composed, and struggled in that era. The Baroque period was the culmination of a long tradition, which began with monophonic music like Gregorian chant, but which eventually became polyphonic, involving multiple, simultaneous lines of music that were independent of but compatible with one another, with no single musical line dominating.

From the solos to the beautifully synthesized voices of the full choir, the LBC shows the power and beauty of human voices raised in disciplined fashion in song. Baroque music demands both technical and artistic proficiency, discernable layers of music and the interpretive ornamentation given to each line. It is perhaps the genre best suited for choir and for praise. LBC also plays music from other periods, but it always comes home to the Baroque.


Martin Luther (1483-1546) used music as a means of wresting the scriptures from the Roman Catholic clergy and making it available to the people, who were all to have a responsibility to the faith. Luther was a translator, an educator and apolitical revolutionary in relationship to the Catholic ecclesiastical and political hierarchy, which assumed that the people needed the elites for spiritual, ethical and political governance and that one's relationship with God was mediated by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and ultimately by the Pope. While it is true that Luther attacked the common people when they rose up in revolt against the nobility in the "Peasants War" (1524-25), his contribution to breaking the tyranny of the Roman church was nonetheless an inestimable contribution to human liberation.

Luther viewed music as a tool for communication, as an outlet for expression and as a means of learning and expressing faith. He thought religious texts, including music, should be accessible in form but also in language: he translated text from Greek and Latin into German as part of his project of wresting control from the elites and providing it to ordinary people. Luther wanted music in the home--he was himself a composer--and he saw it as a form of "rooted-ness." Lutheranism flourished and spread. By the mid-1900s, even in North America colleges, universities, philanthropic societies and preachers were bringing Lutheranism and its choral music to non-elite sectors of society.



LBC Conductor Carl Cherland (D.M.A., the Pfeifer Memorial Director of Music at Luther College) and the choir continue that tradition today. "We're not about art for art's sake," said Cherland. "It's music for community, and Luther viewed community as organic. Luther argued that community is the priesthood of all believers, and Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone the glory). The LBC is one manifestation of Luther's exhortation to live out your faith. We're to be whole human beings, hence education must include music, art, community, the environment."

Since its inception--he founded it in 1982-Dr. Cherland has conducted the choir. But he credits the vision of Dr. Morris Anderson, a past president of Luther College, for supporting the choir's creation. Anderson wanted Luther College to provide a forum for artistic activity for the college, but also for the larger community. "Communities need mechanisms to express themselves." The "Luther" in the choir's name is both a symbol of Luther College and of Martin Luther. In Cherland's view, "it's not a religiously exclusive formulation. The LBC is a community builder, and the values of the inter-generational community are human values: service to others, excellence."

From the podium, Cherland provides the audience with information about the music on the program, and reminds people of the connection between faith and intellect, between music and spirit, between praise and practice and prayer.

While LBC is a choir, it includes instrumentalists and often features guest performers of considerable skill and reputation. An incomplete list of the latter includes internationally renowned talent like organists John Scott of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England, and Paul Manz of Chicago; tenors Michael Colvin and Jamie McLennan of Toronto; sopranos Mary Bella of Toronto and Jane Leibel of Newfoundland; bassist Regan Grant; pianist Peter Tiefenbach; and violinists Brian Boychuck of the National Youth Orchestra and Noel LaPorte of the Montreal Symphony. The LBC has also sponsored the Vancouver Chamber Choir and Tafelmusik. Blended in with the luminaries are excellent young student musicians who are still developing their skills and stage presence.

Some choir members are intergenerational families: Jon Achtzehner sings in the LBC with both his parents, Donna Grant and Phil Achtzehner; Rebecca "Mossing sings in the choir with her father, Larry Mossing; keyboardist Sandra Kerr's daughter Rachelle sings soprano; both Cherland children, Elisabeth and Benjamin, have sung with the choir, as has alto Sharon Solheim's daughter Tara. The choir has had 135 members over the past 25 years: students, faculty, alumni, family and friends. Members make the commitment to attend the practices and concerts--and they also (much like many Dimension subscribers!) donate money to the choir.

While concerts are often sold to capacity, they are performed in a small unassuming hall--the Rex Schneider Auditorium in Luther College at the University of Regina--and notification is primarily by word of mouth and e-mail through the university. Every performance is followed by a socializing period with free food and drink. The cost of attending a performance today is $5 now--but for the choir's first eighteen years it was free.

Meredith Cherland sings in the alto section with the choir and is often a soloist. She sees the mandate and the constitution of the LBC as one that "chips away at class hierarchies, and subverts the use of music and concert as a class signifier."

"Music is one way in which we distinguish among social classes. The music you like marks you as a member of a certain class, and the music you like is often determined by the music you get to sing or play and the music you get to hear. The LBC invites students into the choir, so that young people can sing with older, more experienced musicians and learn to love Baroque music, even if they have never been able to afford private music lessons."

"And the LBC has never been about worshipping at the altar of Fine Art. Attending its concerts has never been a way to demonstrate that you are part of the upper crust. Instead, its membership cuts across class lines, mixing university faculty, community members and students. And its audiences do the same; you don't have to dress up or pay a Lot of money to attend a performance of the LBC. We bring people together."


Throughout Canada's history there have been many examples of politics infused with faith. Currently more attention is paid to the politicization of fundamentalisms that have restrictive, intolerant, sexist and homophobic violent impulses. Many of us watch with horrified fascination as particular faith communities attempt to hijack politics in the U.S.--and, with less success, in Canada. In this context, where faith and politics manifest in toxic ways, inimical to human rights, it is useful to remember that there are other ways of integrating faith and politics in more liberatory ways. It is not faith quafaith, but rather faith as manifest in practice that should attract our attention. We must differentiate between outcomes rather than depoliticize faith--for we are all of us syntheses of our ideologies and faiths, or lack of them.

The less realistic position is to ask for politics to be devoid of faith, for human beings cannot reasonably strip themselves of their attributes nor compartmentalize their beliefs. The LBC shows, through its years of committed excellence and performance, that the practice of making music for others both affirms and creates community in ways that bring us together in appreciation, meditation and a commitment to an other-regarding practice of citizenship.
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Author:Green, Joyce
Publication:Canadian Dimension
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2008
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