Bach in Japan
Yuko Maruyama, a Japanese organist working in Minneapolis, was once a devout Buddhist. Now she is a Christian thanks to the music of J. S. Bach. "Bach introduced me to God, Jesus and Christianity," she told Metro Lutheran, a Twin Cities monthly. "When I play a fugue, I can feel Bach talking to God." Masashi Masuda, a Jesuit priest, came to faith in almost the same way: "Listening to Bach's Goldberg Variations first aroused my interest in Christianity." Today Masuda teaches theology at Tokyo's Sophia University.
But why would the most abstract works of an 18th-century German composer guide Asian people to Christ? Charles Ford, a mathematics professor in St. Louis, suggests that this is because Bach's music reflects the perfect beauty of created order to which the Japanese mind is receptive. "Bach has had the same effect on me, a Western scientist," explained Ford. Henry Gerike, organist and choirmaster at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, agrees: "The fugue is the best way God has given us to enjoy his creation. … But of course Bach's most significant message to us is the Gospel." Gerike echoes Swedish archbishop Nathan Söderblom (1866-1931), who famously called Bach's cantatas "the fifth Gospel."
Rev. Robert Bergt, musical director of Concordia's Bach at the Sem concert series, has first-hand experience with the missionary lure of Bach's cantatas in Tokyo. He used to be the chief conductor of Musashino Music Academy's three orchestras. Bach's compositions brought his musicians, audiences, and students into contact with the Word of God, he said. "Some of these people would then in private declare themselves as 'closet Christians,'" Bergt related in an interview. "This happened to me at least 15 times. And one of them I eventually ...