BMInt interviewed composer and Emmanuel Music director, John Harbison, and the Rev. Pamela L. Werntz, who is to be instituted as rector this Sunday. The 10:00 AM regular service will include Bach’s Cantata No. 163 in English, and a motet by James Primosch. The 3:00 PM special service of institution will feature a repeat of the Primosch. Your correspondents also recalled the Rev. Al Kershaw, Emmanuel Church’s rector enthusiastically encouraging the founding of Emmanuel Music. The incoming rector is also deeply committed to music, especially the music of Bach.
The interview with John Harbison:
BMInt: We recall that a former rector, the Rev. Al Kershaw, presided over Emmanuel when Craig Smith conceived the idea of the special music program.
Craig was a tenor in the choir at the time. The music director faltered, radically, and Craig took over the choir. And within a few weeks, he went to Al with the idea of doing a Bach Cantata series.
He had been coming to Cantata Singers concerts — back when I was conducting, and I had just gotten to know him because he lived across the street from me. …
He got the series going in ’70 or ’71. At the first performance, Rosie [Harbison’s wife] and I both played. Jane Bryden sang… It was in a period when much of the time, the congregation was meeting at Lindsey [Chapel], very small-scale. Quite soon, I think the second year, Craig decided to do it every week. Al was fine with it. Then Craig augmented the chorus quickly with some other singers.
BMInt: Do you think the Bach Cantatas have helped increase the congregation?
I think they did, I think Al thought they did, very much so. Bach cantatas, and the Jazz ministry, were very beneficial.
BMInt: Al was a jazz musician, right?
No. He was not a player, he was a jazz historian, very knowledgeable … deeply engaged in jazz. … And that was part of his connection to Bach. He heard a lot of musical connections between Jazz and Bach. He supported it tremendously.
BMInt: At that point Emmanuel Music was not a separate entity?
Oh no. It was a long time before that. ……Very early on, though Craig also started the evening concerts, and the Mozart Birthday thing started almost immediately with the Bach Cantatas.
BMInt: How does the Cantata fit into the service?
It was meant to be part of the service…
BMInt: It must have fit into the service differently in Bach’s time…
The position of the Cantata in the service changed at various times. Even with Al. Generally the present arrangement was predominant — at the end of the service.
BMInt: There was always the debate, that some people would come to the service and leave before the music, and some would come late, just for the music.
That’s much less true now. Part of the influence of Pamela Werntz has been that people are tending to be here through the service. She has made music more relevant to the service by carefully incorporating the weekly lessons with the choice of Motet and Cantata used in the service. She also is incredibly motivational. Great sermons.
She chose a motet for the installation, by James Primosch, Spiraling Ecstatically. This is a favorite of Pam’s, on an e.e. cummings poem.
I try to find a cantata that deals with the time of the year and so Cantata 163 [Nur jedem das Seine “To Each his Own”] came into my head —”Should we pay taxes to Caesar?” We are doing it in English a translation I commissioned thru the Seattle Symphony. It’s a great one to translate because people think ‘WOW! Bach wrote about that??’
The interview with the Rev. Pamela L. Werntz
BMInt: Will Emmanuel Music stay here?
They are clearly here to stay. I have been here two years as priest-in-charge. As of Sunday, I’m also here to stay. We have been in a period of expanding our collaboration. John and Michael Beattie, assistant music director and I have worked to integrate the text of the Cantata selections with the rest of the liturgy in the way it was intended to be,…
BMInt: Is Emmanuel Music part of every service?
They have summers off, and other vacations. But we have lots of musicians in the congregation, people who sing professionally in other places. Many talented musicians are drawn to this congregation because of the quality of the music. So we can assemble a talented pick-up choir.
BMInt: Do you have a musical background?
The Rev. Werntz: I do! … I was a serious student, and I thought I would go to conservatory. I was taking organ lessons. The only composer I wanted to study was Bach, but my teacher insisted that I had to learn other music, so I quit and walked away from music… I went to a college that didn’t even have a music major. By my junior year I was bereft about the loss of music, so I learned German and took a semester in Vienna and spent the whole semester completely immersed in music. I thought that was a chapter in my life I would never use again!
The bishop asked me to come to this church because of my organizational development, business background, that’s what they thought of…German and Bach are nowhere on my resume. What on earth, why would that matter?
BMInt: do you chant?
I do chant. I love to chant. I chant the Eucharistic prayer, the great litany, the first Sunday of Lent…For me it is important for this congregation to be fully engaged, to be empowered, to be a congregation and not an audience. Since we have been strengthening this collaboration, the number of people in this building during the worship service. has grown, say, about 25%. The number who have come earlier and earlier during the service and stay to the end has more than doubled. People are feeling the engagement and the connection, and wanting more.
BMInt: Is it because you are making the cantata more relevant to the service?
I think so. I think it’s because, when we can connect the prayers, the concerns of the community, the sacred texts, the hymns, the Cantata, motet, whatever the choral service music, when all of those are connected, it creates a buzz that energizes the community. You feel the theme go from the opening sentences through the end of the Cantata. They all fit together. they are not all same thing, but they need to be part of the conversation, … so people leave here with more energy than when they came in. Everyone does. People who have played their hearts out, people who have sung, can carry it into whatever their week is going to look like.
BMInt: that’s what Bach was trying to do…
That’s exactly what Bach was trying to do!