The Georgia Tech Chamber Choir will be performing J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor Friday, March 4 and Saturday, March 5 in cooperation with the New Trinity Baroque Orchestra. With Austro-German Latin pronunciation and young voices, this may be the most authentic performances of an already rarely performed work.
Bach’s B Minor Mass is one of the last compositions the composer ever completed.
“It is really a compilation his entire life’s work. It’s not just something he wrote from beginning to end. He recycled some of his own best music,” said Tim Hsu, assistant director and pianist for the Chamber Choir.
Bach actually never heard it performed in its entirety; he was a die-hard Lutheran writing a Catholic mass, for reasons still debated today.
“It is over two hours and he was able to stitch together a lot of his earlier work, and it serves as a glossary or dictionary of Baroque music. It’s one of the major masterpieces of Western music,” Hsu said.
Unlike most instruments, the human voice is very continuous and can easily sing a continuous spectrum of frequencies. But since most people are used to modern pitch, we have developed some muscle memory.
“We are used to singing at 440hz, so [the choir] has to relearn how to sing, more or less, [in 415hz],” Hsu said.
This isn’t a problem for the choir since their instrument, their collective voice, is so fluid.
The work was originally written in Latin, but the Chamber Choir took this to a new level by affecting their accent of the Latin. Since no recordings exist of native Latin speakers, no one really knows what Latin is supposed to sound like, so there are several different types of Latin pronunciation.
“There isn’t ever a really ‘correct’ way to do it. We are doing it the way that Bach would have probably been familiar with in his life and his area, the way people would have pronounced Latin in Bach’s area in his time,” Hsu said. “This is different than Italian Latin, which is very popular with choirs.”
The piece itself is not performed very often because it is a huge undertaking, being very long and challenging; it hasn’t been performed in Atlanta in 20 years.
“Musicologists have evolved their opinions on how Bach’s music should have been performed. They used to think it should be performed with as many as sixty voices, but now they think it should be sung with as few as eight or twelve,” Hsu said.
Along with this new information, this is the first time this piece is being performed by college voices in Georgia.
There will be two concerts: Friday, March 4 at St. John’s United Methodist Church and Saturday, March 5, at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. Tickets are $9 for students and $29 for adults. They are available online at and at the door.