At Christmas, a Few Words about Re-gifting, Musical and Otherwise

There’s no denying that Johann Sebastian Bach had a brilliant mind. A versatile and virtuosic performer and composer, Bach is immortalized by the hundreds of musical works he left behind, including some of the most beautiful sounding and intricately constructed cantatas and oratorios around.

Bach was also a busy guy. Providing for his 20 (or so) children had to have put on the pressure to churn out new works at a pace exhausting to mere mortals. But being the brilliant fellow he was, Bach famously came up with the perfect solution: he recycled some (okay, much) of his already-composed music for use in later contexts. Twofers, if you will. Maybe even threefers.

Even Bach’s beloved Christmas Oratorio makes use of music from four cantatas Bach had written earlier. And because of its association with Christmas, I like to think of this particular example of Bachian recycling as re-gifting – Bach’s sharing again and again the incomparable gift he had to offer the world.

And if there is a central message of all the gift-giving at Christmas, it is not about the power of money, or about keeping up with – nay, outdoing – the Joneses. It is that gifts, and the experience of giving them, are meant to be shared, early and often.

So spread the joy. And if you were given a gift that really has someone else’s name on it, then make sure to re-gift it. Maybe the real point of that gift was to bring the two of you together through that transaction of generosity.

Think for a moment what the world would be like without Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and so much of Bach’s other musical re-gifting. May you receive – and re-give – great joy this season!

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