500th Remembrance of Reformation Includes Valpo Choir, Special Music Composition

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” — Martin Luther

What started as a call to reform the Catholic Church became a worldwide movement involving millions of people throughout the past five centuries. To remember the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a journey Martin Luther ignited on Oct. 31, 1517, Lutherans and others from around the globe will gather at Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, the very spot it all began. Among those gathered will be the Valparaiso University Chorale, under the direction of Christopher M. Cock, D.Mus., Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Lutheran Music and professor of music.

The 48-voice choir, joined on the week-long trip by Valpo alumni, family, and friends, is the only international ensemble invited to perform on this historic day in the Castle Church. The Chorale’s visit furthers a resurgence in the University’s relationship with the city and church where the Protestant Reformation began — and out of which sprang the Lutheran church. The University made several trips to Germany in the middle part of the 20th century. But it would take close to 30 years for the University to renew the relationship, says Jeff Hazewinkel ’89, director of the Center for the Arts at Valpo. Since 2004, students, faculty, and alumni have made numerous trips to the country. It was this renewed relationship, and the vigor Valpo has shown for the German-Lutheran tradition and heritage, that helped lead to the once-in-a-lifetime invitation to perform at this special Reformation service.

“The invitation is recognition of the work we are doing at Valpo,” Director Hazewinkel says. “That work is not only historical but also pays great homage to the Lutheran tradition. It also highlights the fact that we are doing amazing work with our Chorale. It’s an affirmation of what our program can offer and our global reach.”

Back to Bach
Luther certainly will be front and center at the ceremony, and there’s another German native who will play a key part in the musical celebration — Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach, who lived 200 years after the time of Luther, composed much of his music in the same region where Luther preached.

Bach was heavily influenced by his Lutheran faith, Professor Cock says. Bach, who performed at the Castle Church, served as the cantor and organist at the St. Thomas Church in nearby Leipzig, where he is laid to rest.

“Bach’s writing integrated seamlessly with the Lutheran faith,” says Professor Cock, who began studying and performing Bach’s work in his teens and continued his studies into college and beyond. Now, he’s the director of Valparaiso University’s Bach Institute, which was established to ensure the legacy of the music and theological perspective of Bach for future generations. “For me, Bach brought it all together personally, musically, and theologically.”

Bach composed works that followed the Passion of Christ as written in the gospels of Matthew and John, which the Bach Institute performs triennially, along with “Mass in B Minor.” Bach also wrote two primary cantatas that celebrate Reformation Day. It’s only fitting that the Chorale has performed these Bach classics and will do so during the Reformation commemoration.

“These pieces are a perfect fit for Valpo and our heritage,” Professor Cock says. “This music seems to engender unique enthusiasm and passion from the performers and audience.”

Spotlight on love
The Chorale will also perform a piece commissioned specifically for this occasion called “Into the Light” by 31-year-old American composer Jake Runestad. The composition has double significance, as Luther preached of love and light, and the University’s own motto is “In Thy Light We See Light.”

Along with Martin Luther himself, the work honors some reformers who have inspired and advanced Luther’s legacy — Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Helen Keller, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., John the Evangelist, Mechthild von Magdeburg, Peter the Apostle, and Rabindranath Tagore.

Through its five movements, the composition explores three principal motives: thought, fear, and dark in addition to love and light.

As evident by the title, light is a central theme of the piece. It opens and concludes the composition with the words of Vivekananda: “Come out into the universe of light. / Everything in the universe is yours, / stretch out your arms and embrace it with love.”

“This composition evokes Martin Luther’s ideas of reform and what it means to us in the 21st century 500 years later,” Professor Cock says. “The work discusses fear and love and how God is calling us into a place of love and light.”

Not just another performance
“The soul is made of love, and must ever return to love.” — Mechthild von Magdeburg

Hannah Koby ’18, a church music major, has enjoyed numerous performances at the Castle Church in Wittenberg. In fact, she’s performed more than 50 times in the grand structure, having served as the church’s music intern this summer. An invaluable experiential learning opportunity, Hannah’s internship allowed her to lead both German and English-language worship from the organ, as well as playing solo and collaborative concerts.

“Spending hours alone in the darkened Castle Church practicing on a beautiful Romantic organ with symbols of the Reformation all around me is an experience I will never forget,” Hannah says.

But there will be no performance like the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on the last day of October.

“Helping with some of the planning for Reformation Day while interning made me realize the sheer magnitude of the upcoming commemorations,” she says. “Remembering the excitement from all the visitors from around the world who were there this summer, I can only imagine the energy — and the crowds — that will be present in Wittenberg on the 500th Reformation Day.”

Hannah sees music as one way to bring people from different cultures and who speak different languages together. “Music is a way to connect people to each other and to help them connect to history and to their faith,” Hannah says. “I recognize the great honor of being part of this momentous occasion, and I hope that in some way we are able to touch the lives of those gathered in the Castle Church on Reformation Day, as well as the audiences and congregations wherever we sing, through the music we share.”

Transformation via Reformation
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” — John the Evangelist

This will be the first trip outside the U.S. for Andrew Flasch ’19, an actuarial science major and Chorale president. He certainly recognizes the importance of this trip, not just for him, but for his fellow Chorale members and their friends and families as well.

“The Chorale’s trip will be transformative for everyone involved,” Andrew says. “Each person in our ensemble brings with them their unique perspectives and experiences. Each person has different connections to the music we sing. So while this experience may mean one thing to someone, it may mean another to someone else. “

The cultural significance is not lost on Andrew, either. “To many,” he says, “this trip will be an opportunity to relish in the rich history that is the Lutheran reformation and German culture — the classic Lutheran hymns, the buildings around which Luther and Bach walked, the city that sparked a wave of change felt around the world to this day.”

The lifelong Lutheran is looking forward to experiencing the birthplace of his Christian tradition. “This trip is an opportunity to connect with my heritage and develop a new and deeper appreciation for the history and significance of my faith while also taking the opportunity to share and celebrate the gospel with a global community,” Andrew says.

From Indiana to the World
“Come out into the universe of light,
Everything in the universe is yours,
Stretch out your arms and embrace it with love.” —  Swami Vivekananda

It is most certainly true that the lights of the world will shine on Wittenberg on Oct. 31 — and a global spotlight on Valparaiso University as well.

“This is an opportunity to show that the Lutheran values and principles to which the University is still committed are rooted in 16th century Germany, and furthermore connect us with an international community today,” Andrew says. “Finally, this is an opportunity for the University to call for reform in the modern world through the light of Jesus Christ. It may also mean, to some, a potential to reflect on how we can use our artistic voices to call for our own reform in the modern world.”

Hannah’s internship this past summer saw the power of music in the Castle Church firsthand. “I have seen how music often has a powerful effect on visitors making pilgrimages to Luther’s town,” she says. “I hope that all the students traveling to Germany with the Chorale realize that likewise, our music truly has the power to help people connect to something beyond themselves.”

For Director Hazewinkel, he is honored to have the opportunity for the University to be introduced to the world via a musical performance during a world-class, historically significant occasion.

“The Oct. 31 Reformation performance is the vehicle that will uplift the long-standing commitment Valparaiso University has to the Christian and Lutheran traditions,” Director Hazewinkel says. “This event has a level of excellence that is on par with great cultural activities in the U.S. and in Europe. This is truly a global event — and Valparaiso University is proud to be part of history.”

Campus Events
On campus, the Valparaiso University community is commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in many ways — prayer, worship, song, and dialogue, to name a few. On Oct. 29, the University will host a Hymn Festival, “The Truth Will Make You Free,” which is open to the public and features choirs and instrumentalists from the Valparaiso Community. Visit valpo.edu/reformation for additional information on how Valparaiso University is marking this historic occasion, including a complete list of on-campus events.