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By Kathy Stevens
Imagine you are standing on the front lawn of St. Denis Church, a quaint old stone building in a resort harbor village along the Lake Huron shoreline. It is a warm September evening. From the church spills the sound of beautiful music written almost three centuries earlier. The musical notes soar across the churchyard and through the evening air, filling your heart and mind with an energizing joy and feeling of hopefulness.
What you hear is a performance from the “Bach and Friends Music Festival,” an annual event held in the tiny village of Lexington, situated along the eastern shoreline of Michigan’s “Thumb.” The festival, now in its tenth year, celebrates the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as the many musicians (including both his contemporaries and more recent composers), who have been inspired by the great composer.
The Bach and Friends Music Festival began as the Village Bach Festival in Cass City, a successful venture first organized and founded by Don Th. Jaeger. In 2000, Maestro Jaeger passed the “festival baton” to the Lexington Arts Council (LAC). With little time and few resources (but lots of energy and determination), the nonprofit group of volunteers produced the first two-concert season of the Lexington Bach Festival. Since then, with the support of many devoted LAC volunteers and organizers, the event has thrived.
Today, the Bach and Friends Music Festival consists of five full days of classical musical entertainment, as well as educational workshop performances orchestrated for students in the local schools. The event attracts audience members from across the country, and those who return year after year, are continually impressed by the quality of programming and the high level of classical music performed by world-renowned musicians.
Mr. Jaeger, who has performed around the world in such illustrious halls as the great Konzerthaus Berlin and Carnegie Hall, conducts the Lexington Bach Festival concerts in much smaller venues. Although Mr. Jaeger acknowledges the excitement and prestige connected with performing in famous places like Carnegie, he believes the concerts performed in Lexington’s St. Denis Church offer a unique facet to the performances that can’t be found in the world’s greatest concert halls. The small churches provide the perfect venue for enjoying the music of Bach, who composed his work to be performed and heard in such intimate spaces.
Many of the gifted and talented musicians who perform at the festival have become close friends with Mr. Jaeger over the course of his long professional career. These world-traveled musicians say they appreciate the warmth and hospitality found in the small community of Lexington, as well as the immediate contact and sense of communication that forms between performer and audience in a setting such as St. Denis Church. As one musician friend told Don Jaeger, “You know, when I come to Lexington to play, it reminds me of why I decided to pursue music as a profession in the first place.”
The mission of the LAC is to improve the quality of life for residents in the Blue Water community by increasing access to arts and culture, and the Bach Festival helps achieve this goal. Besides bringing the residents of the community together and improving the learning experiences for area youth, the festival also produces a direct economic benefit to the area by attracting tourists and visitors to the area and helping retain many of the businesses that are so essential to Michigan’s economic resurgence. As such, the festival has received generous donations and support from individual patrons in the community and from local businesses.
Bach and Friends has also benefited from the support of public arts funding in the form of grants from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts. It is fortunate that our legislators recognize the importance of art and culture to our communities and that funding for such projects is integrated into our state’s overall economic development strategy. Without such generous support, it would be difficult for the Lexington Arts Council to share Bach’s music with such joyous and open celebration.
Kathy Stevens is a grantwriter for the Lexington
Fine Arts Festival. You may reach her at