54 Years of Bach Cantata Vespers.

History of the Bach Cantata Vespers.

In 1971 Paul Bouman, director of music at Grace, and Carl Schalk, professor of music at Concordia University Chicago, joined forces to begin the Bach Cantata Vespers ministry. The choirs from Grace and Concordia alternated services for several years with one choir singing the cantata and the other singing a motet. Eventually Grace’s choir took full responsibility for the series. (Concordia’s Kapelle still performs as a guest choir from time to time.)

The Vision of the Founders.

From the outset, Bach Cantata Vespers services have presented the sacred cantatas of J. S. Bach in worship, the setting in which Bach originally performed this music. The cantatas are performed in German and a translation is available in the bulletin at the service (few people present actually speak German!). Services include a homily based on the readings for the day, usually by a guest preacher.

Leadership of Bach Cantata Vespers.

Following Paul Bouman’s retirement in 1983 his successor, John Folkening, who served Grace Church for seventeen years as director of music (and who happened to be present at that first cantata in 1971 as a graduate student in church music at Concordia) continued the tradition. It continues today under the direction of Grace Cantor Michael D. Costello, who was called to Grace Church and School in 2007 and began serving in 2008.


The Bach Cantata Vespers ministry has come to be seen by Grace Church as an important part of its program and as a means of outreach to the local musical community as well as the Lutheran community of greater Chicago. Those who attend find that the combination of inspiring music, a rich liturgy, the devotional atmosphere, and significant preaching feeds their spirit in a deeply profound way.