Bach Marathon, Bach Scholars: Reflecting on November 20 – December 3, 2017

The Civic Fellows woke up from our respective Thanksgiving turkey comas ready for one of the highlights of the season: the Bach Marathon.

Dr. Marissen gives a presentation on Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos to the Civic Orchestra

The orchestra had begun preparations on November 20 with a lecture by Dr. Michael Marissen, a top Bach scholar.  Over the course of three hours, we got a crash course in all six Brandenburg concerti, giving us insight into Bach’s use of musical symbolism as well as a peek into some of his quirky instrumental choices.

On November 21, the orchestra heard from Brian Beach from the Merit School of Music to preview the schools we would be visiting as part of the Bach Marathon.  We divided into our chamber groups and got our feet wet with some Bach.

After Thanksgiving, our preparations escalated.  Starting on November 27, each Bach group had rehearsals and meetings to prepare our music and our presentation plans for the school visits.  We met with Maestro Nicholas Kraemer to try the pieces with harpsichord and receive coaching from an expert in this style of music.

On November 29, the Civic Fellows had a quick detour from Bach Marathon preparations for one on one meetings with Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant Yo-Yo Ma: taking in some wisdom about art, careers, and life.  It is remarkable to be a part of a conversation where you offer a question or an insecurity and it triggers a spontaneous, fully-formed, paradigm-shifting reply.


On November 30, it happened.  Eight groups of Civic musicians broke out into the city with Bach: six Brandenburg concerti, the Two Part Inventions arranged for clarinet and bassoon, and a brass quintet arrangement of Toccata and Fugue.  All the groups played in the festival tent at the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza, where Yo-Yo Ma could be found giving last-minute guidance and inspiration to groups next to the performance area.  From there, groups went their separate ways to visit six schools across the city associated with this year’s community partner, the Merit School of Music.

The Bach Marathon is one of the occasions where Civic gets to work closely with Yo-Yo Ma.  He chose to add a surprise visit to the kids at RefugeeOne, a musical partnership developed by Civic’s Bassoon Fellow, Midori Samson.

Yo-Yo Ma at Chopin Elementary School during the Bach Marathon. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

We found each other again in the evening for a final performance at Fourth Presbyterian Church, where we had record audience of 1300+, almost doubling turnout from the previous year.  Just before intermission, young players from Merit joined Civic musicians and Yo-Yo Ma for Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.

All the musicians somehow managed to find the energy to indulge in pizza and wine at the end of the very long day.

The fellows have been recovering from this marathon by writing and finalizing grant proposals for community engagement projects this spring across the Chicago area.  This fellow, in particular, wrote from bed in between naps.

Roz Green is a Civic Fellow and Violist.

TOP: The capstone event of the the Civic Orchestra’s fourth annuial Bach Marathon at Fourth Presbyterian Church | © Brian Kersey 2017