Jim Grant, 40-year Jamaica Plain resident and retired psychotherapist, has composed an opera about Johann Sebastian Bach, which will be presented on Oct. 28 at St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Grant began writing operas in his sixties, and now his second opera “Before Thy Throne” will be presented in conjunction with JP Concerts. This opera is about Bach’s inner life in his later years up until his death, including how the Pope at the time came to regard him as the Fifth Apostle. The one-time-only performance will feature eight singers and eight instrumentalists.
Jim Grant said that he has been a long-time admirer of Bach, but in his opera he “wants the audience to meet a different, more human Bach, a Bach who was vulnerable, blind, frail, but still creatively potent until the very end of his life.”
“The unusual thing about Jim is that he is a visionary who has decided to manifest his vision regardless of what most people would consider remotely doable, and he is committed to doing it, albeit in a very unconventional way,” said Iris Grant. “He believes what Mohammed Ali once said: if your dream doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough.”
By “unconventional,” Iris Grant was referring to the composition process that Jim Grant uses. Often, at night Jim Grant will “hear beautiful music, sometimes waking him up from sleep, and feels compelled to get up, records what he hears by singing it into a tape recorder, and then over time, sees a narrative developing from what he hears,” according to Iris Grant.
Jim Grant said that other methods he uses are to completely immerse himself in the study of Bach, listening to and meditating on his music as a source of inspiration, and researching his life. All of the information in the opera is factually accurate and based on his research of books, articles, and tapes. Jim Grant did say that he took a creative liberty by “placing Erdmann Neumeister, Bach’s friend and collaborator, in the role of narrator at Bach’s deathbed.”
Jim Grant collaborated with Roger Graybill, a professor of music theory at the New England Conservatory of Music, to compose this opera.
“[Graybill] helped with the arrangements, notated the score, and was very supportive throughout the process,” Jim Grant said. “I learned a lot from working with him.”
After all of this, it took four years to complete the opera.
This is not the first creative project that Jim Grant has immersed himself in. His first opera, though a smaller project, was presented in 2011 told that story of Easter through the eyes of Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ mother.
“I was very happy with the outcome of that opera, and it inspired me to continue working on future pieces,” Jim Grant said. “One of my earliest motivations for writing sacred music comes from an experience I had as a child. I was a professional choirboy at Trinity Church on Wall Street, and as the Halleluiah Chorus was performed I felt myself “lifting off,” in complete exultation and glorification; later I realized that no sermon could express what the powerful combination of sacred music and ritual enactment could express.”
Jim Grant pursued writing poetry and studying comparative religion at Temple University. He studied theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, and later got a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology. He has been a Playwright in Residence at Theater Workshop Boston, where he had four plays produced. Jim Grant is also a fine arts photographer, a graphic artist, and writing a book about the relationship of creativity, healing, and spirituality.
Before Thy Throne, featuring the Nova Cantatae Ensemble, will be performed on Oct. 28 at 8pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Tickets can be obtained at JPConcerts.org and are $20 for general admission and $10 for students, seniors, and membe