Johann Sebastian Bach (1658-1750) came from an unusually musical family. His grandfather was a town musician, and he had three sons, each of whom was a musician; and each of them, in turn, had three sons, each of whom was a musician. If there was ever a clan which prepared a person genetically and culturally for music, this was it. Bach’s extended family included town musicians, cantors, organists, composers, as well as a court musician and an instrument maker.
Cultivation in the arts brings with it some consciousness of degrees of excellence. As choirmaster, Bach had to evaluate prospective members, and we have his evaluation of two dozen boys. Eleven of them he evaluated as having “no musical accomplishments”; the others were ranked in terms of the strength and quality of the voice and in terms of their proficiency as fine, good, mediocre, indifferent, or slight. There should be no need to conceal such facts, which we all must face.
Bach had elitist moments in his attitude to other musicians with whom he had to work; but he could also express humility. One of his sons wrote that he was “anything but proud of his qualities and never let anyone feel his superiority.” One person who knew him reported that, when asked how he had become such a master at composition, he would reply, “I was obliged to be industrious; whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.”
How have you learned to balance (1) your recognition of your own and others’ different levels of gifts and achievements in the arts with (2) the humility (free of arrogance and envy) that comes from our equality before God?