One of the hallmarks of our fifty-year history of presenting cantatas is that Bach’s music is a ‘living laboratory.’ These are not museum pieces. They can be, and we need to be incredibly informed and understand the context. But they resonate with the performer, with the listener, in a way that is real right now for where each individual is on their own journey, either musically or emotionally or spiritually.”

Ryan Turner (in conversation with Pamela Dellal)
Artistic Director
A photo of Ryan Turner
A photo of Dana Whiteside

Emmanuel Music stands at a thrilling crossroads in 2021. We have an illustrious past built on the dreams of a visionary founder and a loyal group of musicians who bring the music of Bach to life. Even more exciting is the anticipation of new programming contemplated by the artistic leadership at the helm today. Through its clarified mission and a roadmap for implementation, the organization is well positioned for reaching new heights.

Knowing the power and importance of the arts, we approach these coming days with gratitude for the community that we have created, and we look forward to the chance to share this with the larger world in a time during which love and beauty are greatly needed.

Dana Whiteside, President, Board of Directors

Who are we, and what is our purpose?

In May 2020, Board members reached a consensus on the core values that undergird the mission statement from which all of our decisions flow. At its core, Emmanuel Music is about:

  • Primacy of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Connection to Emmanuel Church through the Cantata Series
  • Centrality of the Ensemble, the core group of musicians who work together over time. Artistic programming decisions are made with the ensemble members in mind.
  • Excellence, meaning a commitment to both our artistic legacy and to contemporary relevance
  • Inclusion, meaning a commitment to welcome and reflect diversity, including our board of directors, staff, musicians, and audience

Emmanuel Music has adopted a new mission statement, refining its focus and highlighting what is unique about the organization.

Emmanuel Music engages with audiences and musicians to explore the enduring questions of our shared human experience, building on our core commitment to the music of J. S. Bach. 

Our vision for the future

Through its performing, teaching, mentoring, and scholarly activities, Emmanuel Music occupies a unique niche: a living laboratory for the music of J. S. Bach.

Emmanuel Music finds new and creative ways for audiences and musicians to engage with the artistic, spiritual, and humanistic aspects of the music of Bach, the cornerstone of our musical output for our first fifty years. We seek to make Bach’s music deeply relevant to our current lives, including highlighting the connections between Bach and artists that he influenced, especially creative voices that have been marginalized in our society. Building on the symbiotic partnership between an arts nonprofit and an intellectually curious and open-minded religious community, Emmanuel Music further embraces Bach’s sacred music, especially his cantatas, as opportunities to explore the transcendent aspects of our shared human experience.

By embracing a new mission and strategic plan, Emmanuel Music asserts its role as an essential musical, humanistic, intellectual force for participatory engagement in its local community, and around the world through its online programming.

Why Bach?

The strategic planning process led us to affirm our dedication to building our identity around the creative output of a single composer. This affirmation is especially significant in 2021 when many arts organizations are looking to re-think their identity, including disengaging from over-reliance on the historic cultural influence of White European men.

Our essence, and what makes us unique amongst our peers, is the richness and depth that the musicians--and, by extension, the audiences--gain through the cycle of learning, re-learning, and experiencing performances of Bach’s works. This includes exploring the themes of his sacred works that are broadly relatable, rather than uniquely Lutheran.

According to Ensemble member Pamela Dellal, the themes that Bach explores, especially his sacred cantatas, are "so deeply embedded in all of us that you don't have to believe one ideology in order to understand the profundity of what he's writing." As one Board member recently noted, “We’re always struggling. Bach provides a way of dealing with life’s struggles.”

Pursuing Excellence and Relevance

What do excellence and relevance mean to us? We choose to define excellence more comprehensively than a beautifully presented performance. An artistic experience is excellent if it is also deeply meaningful--if it matters--to the people who are involved, beginning with the musicians. Our resident musicians are primarily concerned with interrogating Bach in the context of the present, not recreating the past. This inclusive and inquiry-based approach allows us to think of Emmanuel Music as being a “living laboratory.” 


Resonances exist that feel just as real, and are just as important for us to engage in our own performance of these works. That’s not a betrayal of the composer’s intent. Great music transcends its origin. That’s the key to how we can respectfully embrace and love these works, and make them feel alive. What they were meant to be in one time and place is still true, but can also be brought into other times and places, and still speak to us.”   

Pamela Dellal (in conversation with Ryan Turner)
Bach Institute Co-Director
A photo of Pamela Dellal

This approach is not about educating or codifying something in perpetuity. Rather, it is the sharing of an ongoing exploration that is only possible because of the long-term relationships of the musicians and their focus on engaging with specific works deeply and over time. 

If our musicians are deeply invested, the rewards will be evident onstage, and also offstage. Our work is to intentionally open up their experience to the community that surrounds the musicians so that they, too, can have access to the richness. We will allow our community to see—and participate in—our process in a more transparent way.

Our commitment to Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity

As an organization built on a foundational commitment to the music of Bach, and the prominence of his sacred cantatas in our programming, we are challenging ourselves to become more inclusive and equitable in our artistic and organizational practices, even as we choose to uphold certain time-honored traditions.
If we are to successfully diversify our community, we will need to be the kind of community that people feel welcomed by and motivated to join. With regard to inclusion, we have identified some historical practices that it is time to re-think or “un-learn,” including the following questions:

  • How do we actively open our ensemble membership and hire more BIPOC artists?
  • How do we make our events accessible to people who are not already “part of the club”?
  • How do we ensure that our public events, especially those at Emmanuel Church, are not perceived as exclusive?
  • How do we seek out a diversity of voices and experiences across the people who work for and volunteer for Emmanuel Music?
  • What repertoire can we place Bach in conversation with, and how do we do that effectively? When we choose not to program Bach, why are we doing it?

Our strategic plan creates the framework for us to begin to address these crucial questions, step by step and with measures for accountability, and we acknowledge that it is vital that we continue to address them going forward. A standing committee, made up of board and staff leadership, along with musicians, audience members, and people who are external to our traditions, will look at all aspects of our culture for opportunities to develop new practices and protocols. We seek significant internal change, not simply overlaying new ideas on practices that perpetuate systemic exclusion and inequity.

What will our programming look like in the coming seasons?

Our programming is built around the Cantata Series, a longstanding partnership with Emmanuel Church. We are increasing our investment in the Cantata Series, enriching the experience for musicians and audiences, including new audiences that are given opportunities for in-person and online access to the process as well as the final artistic product.

As we enter our sixth decade, rethinking the form and scope of the Bach Institute, aided by technology and our ability to reach a potential global audience, brings one of the most substantive programmatic changes to Emmanuel Music.We will continue to invest in an intensive, professional-level training experience for highly skilled students each January. However, this offering is part of a curated series of participatory events and activities throughout each season, all under the auspices of the Bach Institute.

This expanded Institute, stretching across the entire season, is designed to be open and inclusive, providing access to learning about Bach’s music and engaging in participatory activities designed for professionals, aficionados, amateurs, and, importantly, the public. 

We plan to present staged or semi-staged ensemble works when appropriate. These experiences are galvanizing for our musicians and show us at our best. We also expect that these types of events will draw a wider and more diverse audience.

How will we expand our community?

Our primary focus will be on growing our community, locally and around the globe, through virtual means, rather than expanding our geographic footprint through touring. When we seek out venues outside of Emmanuel Church, we are looking for opportunities to expand access to communities that would not otherwise be comfortable attending our events

Integrated across our season of programming, our community engagement efforts will be guided by three priorities:

  • Mission alignment. Aligning community engagement activities—as with all programmatic activities—with the mission of the organization, made relevant for today’s audience.
  • Active participation. We will engage diverse segments of our community by providing opportunities for active participation, as opposed to passive listening/viewing.
  • Authentic, equitable, mutual relationships. To create real and lasting organizational relationships beyond our established community that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusivity, we commit to building relationships carefully and with long-term goals.
What will be happening behind the scenes?

During Covid, we have seen our community respond enthusiastically and generously. Their philanthropic support can be seen as the result of the convergence of three areas of investment: the quality of programming, the quality of presentation, and the feeling that Emmanuel Music continues to be present in their lives in a meaningful way.

Moving forward, our development priorities are:

  • Casting a wider net from which to cultivate new donors. This is done by expanding and diversifying our community through engaging people in active participation in programming and activities, both in-person and digital.
  • Individual relationships are the most meaningful. We will increase the personalized experience of Emmanuel Music through professional best practices, drawing on an appreciative inquiry approach.
  • Fund the future. We will fundraise with excitement and optimism based on aspirational long-term goals and strategic initiatives, rather than meeting short-term cash flow needs.

To support this strategy, we will invest in our development capacity both at the staff level as well as at the board and volunteer level.

Newfound clarity of mission and vision has resolved lingering tension about our positioning in a crowded marketplace of classical music organizations. Moving beyond our current focus on promoting events, our institutional marketing answers the question, “What makes Emmanuel Music essential?” The answer is found in the depth of engagement (seeking meaning over entertainment), including exploring connections to our emotional, spiritual, social experiences.

At the governance level, our goal is to build on the strengths of the Board of Directors and its committees, enhance the experience and diversity of board participation, and increase the effectiveness of oversight.

Lastly, with regard to leadership succession, we will establish protocols for effective transition of key leadership roles and codify enhanced emergency operations procedures.

How can I help?

We are seeking to raise one million dollars to fund the programmatic initiatives and organizational growth described in our strategic plan. If you are inspired by our vision for the future of Emmanuel Music, we welcome your investment.

Please consider making a special gift or pledge, above and beyond what you usually choose to contribute to Emmanuel Music on an annual basis.

To learn about leadership gift opportunities, or if you would like to read our three-year strategic plan in greater detail, please contact Heath Marlow, Director of Development & Engagement at heath@emmanuelmusic.org or (617) 536-3356.

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