Thursday, March 21, 2013

A BOOK REVIEW-- Sebastian Bach: the Boy from Thuringia

Sebastian Bach, The Boy from Thuringia

Sebastian Bach: the Boy from Thuringia
Authors: Opal Wheller & Sybil Deaucher 

Illustrations: Mary Greenwalt

Reviewed by: Hannah DeLadurantey

Basic Content:
Overview of Johann Sebastian Bach's life; from infant-hood till late in his career. All the major incidents of his life are recorded in detail, as well as a brief history of his father and grandfather scattered throughout the chapters.

Concerning Content:
There wasn't much mention of Bach's faith in God, in fact God's name was only mentioned once throughout the whole book, and when it was used, it was referenced in a slightly negative way:

In Chapter 3

  • “Sebastian did not know that the leader of the church were very strict people, but he soon learned that this was true. Sebastian was asked to stand and repeat the words of the stern leader: ' I promise to be a faithful servant of God and a good organist, and I will carry out all of my duties and obey the wishes of the leaders of this church.' ”
“But he ( Sebastian ) was happy to live in such a beautiful village and to play for all the services
in the church. He could study the works of the great masters, too. But most of all,
when there was time, he could compose for the organ.”

From the writers viewpoint, in my opinion, these sentences make it sound like Bach enjoyed playing for the church only because it gave him the opportunity to learn and compose new music instead of him enjoying it because he was getting to participate in directing the church (and its musicians) in singing and performing for God's glory.

In Chapter 1
  • Bach steals his brother's music book, and copies the notes down in his own book (by moonlight) so that he can learn the more difficult music that his brother Christoph is refusing to let him learn. Bach is shown as deceitful and sneaky; for the better good.
  • Bach leaves without notice, from his brother Christoph's home in Ohrdruff, to attend a church in Luneberg so that he may join the Saint Michael's choir.

Even though we can see how mercifully God worked His will, providentially, through Bach's ungratefulness and disobedience towards his brother, sin is sin.
 Exodus 20:15 “ Thou shalt not steal”
I think that Christoph may have provoked Johann to wrath by not letting him learn more difficult music, but that still does not give one the excuse to sin.
Ephesians 6: 5 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour they father and mother (which is the first commandment with promise), that I may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.”
Even though Christoph wasn't Johann's father, he was his authority since his parents had died.

I have no problem with the disobedience and ungratefulness of Bach being recorded in this book, I just wish that it had been shown as a bad thing and not something that was insinuated as being fine because “it was ultimately for a better good”. After all, it wasn't fair the Bach didn't get to play out of a harder music book........No, right is right, and wrong is wrong. God is serious about His law, just as we must be if we call ourselves Christians.

Praiseworthy Content:
The book spoke of Bach's positive attitude of being allowed to sing in various church choirs when he was a lad, but the writer seemed to have eluded that Bach enjoyed the choir only for the sake of satiating his own musical appetite, and not necessarily because he was singing for the glory of God.

Even though I wished some things were added or subtracted from this work, I wouldn't throw the book out altogether, as I believe that Wheeler and Deucher wrote well on many scores:
  • There was an abundance of interesting details. The way the authors weaved important information into the story; names and dates, only added intrigue to the story, making it natural and easy for children to recall the important facts of Bach's life and works. The authors also grafted in some humorous stories of Bach's childhood, which would easily grab children's attention!
  • The multigenerational vision of playing and composing “good music” was highly praised in this book. Veit Bach ( J.S. Bach's great-great-grandfather ) was well respected by J.S. Bach's father ( Ambrosius Bach ), and J.S. Bach was encouraged to walk in his great-great-grandfather's footsteps.
  • Wheeler and Deucher wrote glowingly of ; J.S. Bach's care for his family, and Maria Barber and Magdalena's ( Bach's first and second wife ) submissive and supportive spirit of their husband's calling and vocation. And lastly, Bach's faithfulness in leaving with his children, his legacy of music, this he implemented by teaching them, and composing for them and others.
  • Wheeler and Deucher also added various compositions of Bach throughout the book, which are notated so that children can play them as they read about how and when Bach composed them. And they also sprinkled throughout the book various explanations of musical terms such as: Chorale, Quodlibet, Minuet and Fugue.
  • The illustrations are also a great addition, children love pictures!

In the end, I'm planning on keeping this book on my shelf. Though I think I'll add a few scripture references and footnotes to my personal copy of: Sebastian Bach: the Boy of Thuringia.
You never know when a little child might pick up the book and think that stealing and disobedience are something Bach, a professing Christian, saw no harm in.

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