From Bach to Bach’s sons – in the stream of the generations

By René Walter, August 2021

It is a fascinating family history that is in preparation over nine generations before Johann Sebastian Bach sees the light of day in 1685. Widely branched town musicians, watchmen, organists and cantors preceded him in Thuringia. A family line of skilled and certified craftsmen of the musical arts can be traced back almost 300 years before a defining individuality writes musical history out of it.

Photo: © David-W- /

Bach’s large family was constantly making music, teaching and rehearsing. His second wife and gifted sons, some of whom were successful as musical directors at European courts, formed choir and orchestra at the same time. In 1730, Johann Sebastian wrote in a letter to his school friend Georg Erdmann: “My eldest son is a Studiosus Juris, the others are still attending, one primam, the other 2dam Classem, and the eldest daughter is also still unmarried. The children of the other marriage are still small, and the first-born boy is 6 years old. All in all, however, they are born musicians, and I can assure you that a vocal and instrumental concert can already be made with my family, especially since my wife sings a very nice soprano, and my eldest daughter is not bad when she joins her either.”

Anyone who listens to the Oboe Concerto in B flat major (Wq164) by Carl Philipp Emanuel, for example, can clearly gain the impression that a Bach is speaking out of the music; at the same time the style is more sensitive, more playful and more individual than that of his father. Something new cannot be ignored, but neither can the continuum. In retrospect, music history recognises the birth of a new generation – here connected with the phenomenon of the family imprint.

The ideational stream of the Waldorf school movement has now reached the fourth generation. In connection with the great worldwide celebration of the 100th anniversary, valuable historical accounts have been produced in three volumes which describe the work of individual personalities and how each generation faces new tasks and develops its own visage. The continuum lies in wrestling with The Foundations of Human Experience in the broadest sense and specifically with how to structure lessons.

If we look at the “silver-grey” landscape of the school movement, it becomes clear that many of today’s leading figures were initiated wholly in the third generation and now share the responsibility of shaping transitions and creating opportunities for a new generation to develop.

How can this work? All structural questions as to how to shape the transition should be preceded by an intellectually stimulating milieu in which anthroposophical education can be discussed collaboratively. This milieu will be able to focus, among other things, on a constantly revitalised education teachers’ meeting if concrete experiences with children and young people are combined with how we understand the nature of the human being; if, instead of intellectual prescriptions or instructions, work is done together on an individualised understanding of the suggestions from the “Green Volumes”; if curriculum and methodology are pondered in an intellectually free climate of research and questioning; if traditional form and content are not simply handed down out of concern that otherwise there will be arbitrariness, adaptation and dilution. Only in such a milieu can the development and transformation of the teacher’s personality be encouraged – of the experienced and the younger ones alike.

Consciously shaping transitions

In addition to this central question of an inspiring cooperation in terms of content, there are certainly also tangible ways of entrusting responsibility to a younger generation. For this we should recognise the special individual abilities or developmental potentials in the college of teachers and consciously assign tasks. Key positions in self-governance such as chairing teachers’ meetings, in management, staff development, timetabling, on the board, participation in regional working groups and federal bodies should also be entrusted to the skills of younger colleagues. Tandem solutions, sponsorships or mentoring in the task areas could create a healthy culture in which mistakes can be made and there is success.

If the “old hands” always keep things running, that may be good for a certain phase in the development of a school. However, it does not absolve from the responsibility to recognise the dormant skills and untapped potential of a new generation and to involve them as early as possible. It is real tasks and challenges that enable “growth”. As a rule, colleges of teachers send two persons to the delegate conferences and general meetings of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, who represent their school with competence and experience. How about deliberately introducing younger colleagues to this delegation to enable them to “look over the garden fence” of their own institution?

As part of self-governance, it should be possible to have a sense that initiative and a willingness to be involved are in demand and encouraged, that it can be a joy when ideas stemming from the educational impulse can find innovative forms in reality; when self-governance is not understood as a heavy burden that can only be carried by those in the know with furrowed brow, but when an entrepreneurial culture of joy in shaping and enabling takes hold. The creative freedom that we have as an independent school, and as a Waldorf school in particular, is possibly our strongest asset, also with regard to a future generation of teachers who would like to find their way to us.

We have an original educational idea with many open-ended developmental possibilities in terms of methodology and teaching on the one hand, and room for initiative to realise ideals on the other. People who are motivated to educate and who want to be creative, not hand down traditions, need freedom and certainly do not want to be corrected against an ideal from the past. Forms of cooperation will keep transforming and take on a more flexible constitution in harmony with the life plans of the new generation.

Looking at the generations of the Bach family, we can recognises the continuum of the spiritual bond of music – the bond that weaves between the generations of teachers is also of a non-material nature. It does not consist of the finished forms that have come into being, the buildings and wax blocks, rather it is the anthroposophical idea of the developing human being in general and in particular. The suggested path of transformation of the teacher personality is a path that helps us to remain inwardly young instead of becoming sour and spiritually sclerotic. In this sense, let the experienced colleagues also be “fountains of youth” for the school community.

About the author: René Walter is a music, religion and German teacher at the Greifswald Free Waldorf School, member of the Federal Conference for the Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania regional working group.


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