J.S. Bach and my inadvertent crash course in greatness

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After checking into my hotel in downtown Hartford, CT and enjoying a wonderful meal in the hotel’s restaurant (sorry for the food shot, put it was perfect), I took a short trip in a limousine to the nearby campus of Trinity College. The purpose of my trip was to take in a concert at the Trinity College Chapel highlighting the organ music of J.S. Bach (1685-1750) performed by Christopher Houlihan. The Chapel is the building on the left with the tall tower (first picture above). I had never been here before hence the compulsion to snap a picture.

Walking toward the Chapel down the path I walked through the passageway of the clock tower (smaller building on the right). I happened to notice a plaque with my name on it, literally, which required my iPhone once again.

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Welton is my last name which gave me an instant connection to the campus like I had been there before. I would later learn from my father that many of our ancestors settled in nearby Waterbury, CT so it is likely that Louis Welton Downes is a distant relative of mine.

Walking into the Chapel, I was intrigued by the beauty of the building with hand crafted detail everywhere I looked.

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Not to mention the organ itself.

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Hand relief carvings with wooden sculptures at each end of every pew. I soon realized that this was one the most exquisite buildings I had ever been in, and thought of what a fitting place to hear an evening of music written by, arguably, the greatest composer whoever lived.

The young organist made his appearance and sat down to play, from memory, a program of Bach’s music that would be impressive for a middle aged master to pull off. The sonorities produced by the organ were equally impressive; the earth moving lower register that vibrated your seat, the indescribable clarity and tonal detail of every note of the middle and upper registers. The organ was arrogant and aggressive in loud passages and subdued with humility and gentle grace in the soft passages. J.S. Bach would have approved.

Onto the music and performance, the chorale “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” (I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ) BWV 639, I suddenly felt like I was watching someone in prayer. Christopher Houlihan clearly loves and is devoted to this music and rose up to the level of where J.S. Bach’s music is, not the other way around. He also rose up to the level of craftsmanship of the organ and the Chapel itself.

Very seldom do you experience the contrapuntal play of even two multidisciplinary arts executed to their highest potential. That evening I experienced five – Chapel, Organ, Composer, Performer and the extreme generosity of the man who paid my hotel room, meals and limousine so that I could have an inadvertent crash course in greatness, with the feeling like I had been there before.

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