Singing Bach

So, I Googled “singing Bach” just for fun. I got lots of these:

Sebastian Bach performing at The Palladium in Worcester, MA on F

….and lots of these:


….and a wonderful article about Kurt Elling, the great jazz singer:


by  :

Though Kurt Elling is one of the most well-loved and highly praised jazz singers of our time, he first developed his chops singing Bach motets. As Elling returned to his native Chicago for performances at City Winery, he spoke about how classical music has influenced him throughout his life.

Though Elling confessed, “I never thought of a professional career in music,” becoming a musician was perhaps inevitable. His father was the music director of a Lutheran church in the Chicago suburbs, and music was always a part of his childhood. He began singing in his church choir, “starting with soprano, then alto, then tenor, and finally all the way to the bass. I was so happy to finally sing bass because that’s where the root is, that’s where the power is,” he said. He also sang with the Rockford Choral Union, and later, as a student at Gustavus Adolphus College, with the Gustavus Choir.

From singing in several choral groups, Elling was exposed to a broad range of repertoire including “12th century plainsong, crazy Norwegian composers, Duruflé, and Mozart, of course.” But as the son of a Lutheran music director, naturally, one of his favorite composers is the great Lutheran music director J.S. Bach. Elling has a particular fondness for Bach’s motets….

…Elling says that singing classical music can help any singer “develop your technique because it insists that you sing in tune and requires a lot of agility. The basic mechanisms of good singing are always going to be in play: good breath support, being able to move from very forceful and loud passages to very subdued and restrained and quiet passages, the ability to maneuver with dexterity among challenging intervals. Beyond pure technique, singing classical music teaches you about the structure of music, too. I learn so much about the structure of a piece by singing it.”…

… Though today jazz is Elling’s bread and butter, classical music has remained an important part of his life. “There’s nothing that compares to the emotional thrill and uplift that one receives from the greatest possible music. It doesn’t matter what kind of music it is. But there are few more powerful experiences or feelings of being fully alive, focused, and engaged than when I have been making music with a choir and orchestra.”



1 thought on “Singing Bach

  1. I enjoyed the full Elling article. Thank you for posting it.

    Something not dealt with in the article, but is primary to my choice in remaining with the Chorale, is singing with understanding. Your contributions to that goal, as it pertains to me, is much like the comic image of dangling a carrot just out-of-reach but tangible enough to make my mouth water. I can absorb and deeply appreciate (if not long remember) the anecdotes, but I just keep snapping at your knowledge of musical structure. I have yearned to acquire a foundation in music theory, have been teaching myself to play piano and have enjoyed some primers intended to effectively teach me, but find that what I lack is community that engages in and uses the language. You are the first choir director I have had that even tries. It would not be gratifying for a person with a rich vocabulary and the sensibilities to apply it practically and precisely enough to put a volume of information into a short sentence, to be surrounded continually by kindergarteners.

    If I catch on to any of these musical understandings you have it is because you insist on luring me into it and you believe that I will find a way. By keeping your expectations high and by not underrepresenting our possibilities, you have engineered a passageway to possibility.

    I will keep snapping at the carrot until I can taste it.

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