Over 50 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. Several basic characteristics of the series developed in its early years and have continued to the present:

1) Each service includes a homily based on the lessons for the day or the basic content of the cantata. Homilies are not to be musicological treatises but rather proclamation of the Gospel.
2) Cantatas are sung in the original German language.
3) The motet for each service is to be selected generally from the rich repertoire of choral music from the early centuries of Lutheran music. Likewise, the hymns sung are to be chosen largely from the great chorales of the Lutheran church from Luther to Bach. The pre-service music is chosen largely from the repertoire of J. S. Bach and others of his general period.
4) Equally important, the church choir, which sings regularly each Sunday, is not to curtail its primary responsibility in the Sunday morning service. Singing for Bach Cantata Vespers would be above and beyond their regular continued involvement in the regular worship of the congregation.

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 way that words alone cannot.