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Local musicians bring "Bach" back in style

By Tom Flanigan


Tallahassee, FL – There are many reasons Tallahassee's "Bach Parley" group is so popular, even with folks who aren't particularly big fans of baroque chamber music. Tom Flanigan reports the group's coming concert this Sunday will continue a tradition of using music to show how the world of nearly three-hundred-years ago was very much like today.

There will be a number of pieces performed at this Sunday's Bach Parley concert at St. Johns Episcopal Church in downtown Tallahassee. The group's musical director, Valerie Arsenault, who also is one of the violinists, says the first will have a direct connection to the present day

"Our June 5th, 2011 concert will start with a piece that premiered June 5th, 1708. And I hadn't planned that, but when I was starting to do my research, I saw that fact and I thought, 'It's meant to be. We should do that Cantata 196.'"

And there are a couple more hooks beyond just the anniversary connotation.

"This first cantata that's on the concert is for a wedding. And since June is also wedding season, it's a very light and happy piece and the two lead singers in it are Tucker and Mary Biddlecombe, husband and wife."

The great composer Johann Sebastian Bach wrote many religious works, such as the aforementioned wedding cantata. But Arsenault notes Bach did not limit himself to sacred subject matter.

"Bach had this other life, especially at his final job when he lived in Leipzig. He used to hang out and play concerts at Zimmermann's Coffee House and these were mostly instrumental concerts or secular concerts. And so we have what is called the 'Coffee Cantata'. But it's really not a cantata; it's a small, funny opera that Bach wrote and this is the only thing he wrote like this."

Arsenault says this light-hearted mini-opera, although written way back in the 1730s, could have just as easily been penned by any parent today whose kids spent too much time and money at the local Starbucks.

"It's about a father who is very upset with his daughter because she drinks too much coffee. So he is livid! He has asked her a thousand times not to drink so much coffee and he's trying to figure out how to get her to stop."

This leads to an ever-escalating battle of wills.

"He puts all sorts of limits on her, like she can't go to parties and she can't have new dresses and so and so. And she says, 'Fine! Take away all of those things, but don't take away my coffee.' So finally this makes him even more angry."

Finally, the frustrated dad really puts his foot down.

"And he says, 'Well, daughter, I won't let you get married unless you give up coffee.' So she says, 'Okay, if you let me get married, I won't drink coffee anymore.' But she schemes and she sends word out that she will not accept anyone in marriage unless he agrees to let her drink her coffee. So she ends up double-crossing her father and getting her way in the end anyway."

There will also be a happy ending for the entire program as well. Arsenault says there will be an after-concert membership reception with sweets and plenty of coffee, of course.

"This is the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Tallahassee Bach Parley and we always like to have something to bring us into a party mood, especially at the June concert. So it just seemed like the right time to put the Coffee Cantata back on the program."

The musical caffeine starts flowing at three this Sunday during the Bach Parley's Cantatas, Cellos and Coffee program at St. Johns Episcopal Church. Admission is free, although a five dollar donation is suggested.