In this Sunday’s worship service the Sanctuary Choir will sing “Leite Mich,” a movement from J.S. Bach’s Cantata 150. I want to give you a few things to listen for so that you can engage more fully with the anthem.
In the opening of the piece the choir will sing the phrase “Leite mich in deiner Wahrheit,” which means "lead me in your truth." As the choir sings, “lead me” you will hear a slow and determined ascending line pass through each section of the choir beginning with the basses and working its way up to the sopranos. As the sopranos finish the ascending line, the keyboard picks it up and a raised pitch provides a surprise ending, like a ray of sunlight breaking through the clouds. It is the composer’s way of illustrating the guidance of God; we are slowly drawn upward, even through difficulty and tedium, by God’s surprising grace and truth.
In the second section of the piece, the choir will sing quick, difficult moving notes to the text “und lehre mich,” which means “and teach me. I like to think of the composer demonstrating through sound the process of learning a difficult skill and showing proficiency. Following that, the choir confidently sings “Denn du bist der Gott, der mir hilft”: for you are the God who helps me. The music reflects the faith implicit in the statement, “God is our helper.”
Finally, the composer sets the phrase “Täglich hare ich dein,” or “I await you daily” to a very slow, repeated note that is traded around the choir. Each part gets the opportunity to musically wait on long notes, while the other voices swirl around them. I believe the music’s message in this conclusion is that no matter what happens in life, what tribulations or sufferings we endure, we are called to resolutely wait on God in the midst of them.
As you receive the anthem this Sunday—which will be sung in German—try to hear past the language to what the music as a whole is communicating, and be encouraged that the Holy Spirit still speaks to us through forebears like Bach, as we breath fresh life into their music.
You can preview the anthem here.