Anna Cooper vs. J.S. Bach

In a 2014 bracket quirk, Celebrity Blogger Heidi Shott is shepherding her "Killer B's" through the Saintly Sixteen this week. Bach, Bedell, and Brooks are all doing battle over the next few days. Today we begin Heidi Week with J.S. Bach taking on Anna Cooper in a contest between an activist and a musician. One key to this contest will be the critical bassoonist vote. Will they rally behind a fellow musician or take umbrage with one of their own once being called a "nanny-goat bassoonist?"

Yesterday, in a tight race, Harriet Beecher Stowe managed to hold off Alcuin 53% to 47% and will face the winner of Harriet Bedell vs. Thomas Gallaudet in the Elate Eight.

Don't forget, you can always find links to the match-ups of the previous rounds on the Bracket page. Can't remember where Anna Cooper grew up? Need a reminder about the number of children J.S. Bach sired? Go look it up and become a better informed Lent Madness voter.

PS. Your shoelaces are untied.

unnamedAnna Cooper

Anna Julia Cooper -- the daughter of an enslaved women and a white slave master – was an educator and tireless advocate for the rights, dignity, and opportunities of women and people of color during the early twentieth century. Anna's cause was not only about empowering women, it was also about ensuring the dignity of the entire human race as a reflection of God’s likeness. Nevertheless, she recognized that black women had a unique perspective on the matter because of their sex and race. As she explained,

The colored woman feels that woman's cause is one and universal; and that not till the image of God, whether in parian or ebony, is sacred and inviolable; not till race, color, sex, and condition are seen as the accidents, and not the substance of life; not till the universal title of humanity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is conceded to be inalienable to all; not till then is woman's lesson taught and woman's cause won -- not the white woman's, nor the black woman's, nor the red woman's, but the cause of every man and of every woman who has writhed silently under a mighty wrong.

She fearlessly chastised Christians for being complacent about injustice and advocated for greater recognition of the immeasurable value of women. In her well-known work, A Voice from the South, she wrote:

The earnest well-trained Christian young woman, as a teacher, as a home-maker, as wife, mother, or silent influence even, is as potent a missionary agency among our people as is the theologian; and I claim that at the present stage of our development in the South she is even more important and necessary.

Never one to back down from a challenge, she had pursued the “gentlemen’s” course of study at Oberlin College over the more genteel program for women. After many years as a teacher, principal, and advocate, at the age of 57, she adopted her nephew’s five children while simultaneously working toward her PhD.  (So, yes, we know you just celebrated your 80th birthday Gloria Steinem, but Anna Cooper could run circles around you. Did you get a PhD at 67? I don’t think so).

In a time when women were expected to be quiet and people of color were threatened with violence, Anna refused to succumb to fear or comfort. Instead, she relied upon education and Christian compassion over violence, a lesson from which the short-tempered, bassoon-fighting Bach could have benefited. (So much for turning the other cheek, eh?)

Anna died in 1964 at the age of 105. In 2009, the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School in Richmond, Virginia, opened in her honor and provides a faith-based education to students of limited means.

-- Maria Kane

unnamedJohann Sebastian Bach

Over the years I’ve known many 18 year-old males and, indeed, felt a great fondness for a number of them, but I can assure you that I don’t recall one -- even the musicians among them -- ever saying anything like this: “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul."

Still, despite the odds, such were the words uttered by Johann Sebastian Bach, a young church organist in Arnstadt, Germany, in 1703. Indeed, Bach signed hundreds of his church compositions and some of his secular works with the initials S.D.G., an abbreviation for the Latin term Soli Deo Gloria meaning “Glory to God alone.”

While many of the saints who find their way into the bracket have left behind theological treatises, sermons, devotional poetry, and other writings, Bach left behind little written work to demonstrate his faithfulness. David Mendel argues in The Bach Reader, “For the expression of emotion, however, Bach hardly needed to resort to words. The focus of his emotional life was undoubtedly in religion, and in the service of religion through music...That his church music was designed to deepen the worship of God and to embellish His service need not be emphasized.”

It is not just Bach’s many biographers who see the hand of God in how Bach offered his gifts to the world. Words of praise from other composers, contemporary through the present day, abound. Claude Debussy said famously, “And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity — on each page we discover things which we thought were born only yesterday, from delightful arabesques to an overflowing of religious feeling greater than anything we have since discovered.”

Faithful Christian and musical genius though he was, Bach seems to have admitted to a few human foibles. His short comic opera on the pleasures of coffee-drinking, Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Be still, stop chattering), was performed regularly at a coffee house in Leipzig. We have record of two other of his habits -- a penchant for smoking tobacco and writing poetry -- in a collection he dedicated to his second wife, Anna Magdalena, in "The Second Little Clavier Book.” One verse reads:

How oft it happens when one’s smoking:
The stopper’s missing from its shelf,
And one goes with one’s finger poking
Into the bowl and burns oneself.
If in the pipe such pain doth dwell,
How hot must be the pains of Hell.

A bit of a wag, Bach once said, “It's easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.” But he also said, “Music is an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul.”


-- Heidi Shot


Anna Cooper vs. J.S. Bach

  • Anna Cooper (54%, 2,717 Votes)
  • J.S. Bach (46%, 2,341 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,056

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179 comments on “Anna Cooper vs. J.S. Bach”

  1. I think today offers us an opportunity to reflect upon vocation. To discount Bach's music as less saintly then hands on advocacy when God used it to attract people to church, reach people who were outside it, encourage the sick and dying, and bless our worship seems terribly shortsighted. Indeed, many of our congregations throughout the centuries have raised funds for ministry, and secular charities too (i.e. We can't be more than God created us to be, and Bach's gifts were used to the glory of God and still resonate with people. I'm not sure God sees us based on such a human scale of value as some seem to propose in their comments. God is in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. Everything is used for the good of those who love our Lord. Every vocation whether that of stay at home mom, preacher, teacher, public servants, yes, even banker, salesman, and other jobs connected to earning our daily bread become sacred when we seek to share God's love. Church musicians and vocalists (even bassoonists) have just as sacred and vital a ministry as the pastor or social outreach chair. Jesus needs to be present throughout our world, even in its economy, businesses and homes. He uses us to be present. We can only seek to fulfill the purpose God has given us, not to create our own or chose where Jesus asks us to follow. Both candidates are saints today. We might have a favorite (someone we relate to or inspires us more), but the great cloud of witnesses are like individual notes - all critical to the beautiful music being written by our Lord. Today, I vote for Bach, but you aren't wrong to vote for Anna. For fun, you might like to visit my Pinterest board on Bach:

  2. After going to to website for the Anna Cooper School, I found this about the school, and felt I must vote for Anna today. Yes, Bach's work allows us to soar, but Anna reminds us that we must come down to earth and do the hard work of living with one another:

    "Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School believes that education deepens life. True education instills a sense of mystery and wonder and a love for God and our neighbor. Education is essentially liberating. It helps us discern the right path and to follow it. This is freedom: having the strength of mind to love and serve. God sustains us in this pursuit and the example of Jesus remains our highest standard."

  3. Once we get to this level, it is so hard to choose. Once again, both candidates are wonderful.

  4. Anna Cooper has my admiration for her steadfast commitment to learning and her leadership in the struggle for human rights. But, sometimes we all have to look toward the refreshment of the soul. Without the music of JS Bach our humanity would lose a connection to the divine. When one is struggling in the trenches it is music that soothes and uplifts our soul; whether the music of prayer, words, or bassoon, all embodied in the works of Bach.

  5. Not sure why Maria Kane felt it necessary to make some sharp digs at Gloria Steinem in her article about Anna Cooper. Putting women into competition with one another is just another tactic to silence and intimidate. Is that really something Anna Cooper would have endorsed? Or Gloria Steinem? I think not.

  6. Bach will undoubtedly win this one but my vote will count in my heart where I honor my personal s/hero ( I heard that used once and thought..."why not?") rather than heroine, Anna Julia Cooper who fought for the rights of the mis-served and underserved and never served in the first place. Gee, talk about ya run-on sentences ! All to the glory of God... AJC, not moi.

  7. I expect when we reach the beyond, the saints we find glorified in Heaven will be people of no renown. Matthew 6:1-8. Working for the sake of renown, of course, leaves us bereft of the same. But even unsought renown makes canonical saints less saintly than anonymous saints -- my opinion. But we only have canonical saints to discuss, until we meet the others in Glory.

    So I find I have a pop-culture anti-bias against such as Stowe and Bach. I voted for Ms. Cooper, though she has her own pop-culture following, led by my favorite talking head, MHP -- though I only discovered that after my vote. I also discovered that Ms. Cooper was a fan of Ms. Stowe, perhaps a material observation for an eventual matchup. I'm simply impressed that Ms. Cooper found her beacon of truth, and held to it against the winds of temporal triumph. That's what saints do. Ephesians 4:14.

    Bach's was the wind and the waves, but indeed, of God's own Spirit, not of schemers. The irresistible force has met the immovable object, and AJC prevails.

  8. While Anna may be assured of a place in heaven, Bach has had a place in my heart for nearly 70 years, ( I was part of a children's choir). Therefore must vote for Bach.

  9. It just keeps getting increasingly difficult but in the end Anna received my vote. Such a powerful woman

  10. Another dead heat. I came within a millimeter of flipping a coin. I finally voted for Anna Cooper because she got her Ph.D. at 67. Age should not be an impediment to any accomplishment or any contribution one might want to make to the greater good.

  11. Interesting that a vast number of the comments favor one saint, but the vote tally indicates a lead by the other. Perhaps people are quiet but convinced by Cooper and just do the work that needs to be done? Still don't know who but inspired by both.

  12. Hard, no, impossible to make a choice when there is so little common ground, no point for comparison.

  13. Bach is an incredible choice BUT Anna Cooper has done so much in the field of education and the stands taken on racial issue, she HAS TO BE MY CHOICE.

  14. Love Bach's music, but have to go with Anna. I wonder where we would be now had it not been for her (as well as many others) stick-ability, fortitude, vision, strength, desire, and love.


  16. Humorless stridency
    Meet tongue in cheek
    Lose your composure
    Bloviate, freak
    Bunny tailed Steinem
    Mistress of MS.
    Just simply is

  17. Perhaps I am too shallow for my own good, but Bach's music makes my soul soar. Anna was undoubtedly saintly & wonderful, but my life is mired in the prosaic (and she comes across that way to me) & Bach lifts me above it.

  18. I have immense admiration for Ms. Cooper, her witness, and her work. Since she's well ahead, I'm going with Bach, whose work I've sung and played for most of my life and heard for probably all of it.
    If Anna does go on to win the Golden Halo, Johann will write a cantata--or perhaps even an oratorio--for the occasion.

    1. Well, dear friend, I agree with you. Both saints are equally deserving of our vote, yet the race remains lopsided at this hour. I, too, am voting for Bach, not because I can sing well (I can't), but because his music so glorifies God and feeds the soul…and will do so forever.

  19. Hard choice, but ended up going with Bach after I remembered "Psalms" from the Bible. Anna was a saint, too, but there are so many good people through the ages who "do," but not many who compose.

  20. Anna Cooper sounds worthy and admirable, but her bio makes an unnecessary slam at Gloria Steinem, a saint in her own right. Traveling the world for a lifetime, working for women's and human rights, leaving personal life second to her work, Gloria doesn't deserve disdain because she didn't stay home to study and gain credentials.
    I read these contests every day and that's the first time I've seen nastiness enter the arena. Poor job, Maria Kane!

  21. The impact of Bach's music is universal and has spanned centuries and as has been pointed out will continue to do so for many centuries to come, long after all of us are long gone. There is not a church musician alive who has not been influenced by J.S. Bach! And as far as his two wives and 20 children, in those days lots of people had large families, and his first wife died suddenly. What was he supposed to do, remain alone the rest of his life? Come on! Many of his children also contributed in significant ways to the church musically. Having a large family is hardly a sin!

    Without discounting Anna Cooper's work, that work is hardly unique and certainly does not have the long-lasting and universal impact of Bach. Other women have contributed in the same ways as Anna Cooper. This contest should be about what makes the person unique as a saint. Others have certainly contributed to an equal extent to the cause of freedom and equality for all. Where is Anna set apart? I never heard of Anna before this contest, but as I said, there is not a church musician alive who not only has not heard of Bach, but who has not been profoundly influenced by Bach. There is simply no comparison!

    J.S. Bach: Motet BWV 227 'Jesu, meine Freude'

    1. I couldn't agree more. I'm a social worker and stand on the shoulders of countless saints like Anna Cooper every day. But the specific impact of JS Bach's music - not just music in general - on humanity's sacred and spiritual existence can not be understated. Bach's music, unlike music created by any other human being, is spiritual food that nourishes us so that we may go out and do the work of Anna Cooper.

      1. Have read ALL the comments and this is the one that sealed it for me. I love learning about all the saints this way and often feel guilty not voting for someone who did wonderfully important work that leaves me in awe. But for me, too, Bach's music is "spiritual food that nourishes us so that we may go out and do the work of Anna Cooper." And being a life-long Lutheran and choir member has nothing to do with my choice. But the Brandenberg Concertos will always be my favorite music.

  22. Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. -- Martin Luther

    Music is the art of the prophets and the gift of God -- Martin Luther

    Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.
    -- Martin Luther

  23. If you are really torn, you can go to and vote for Bach in their composer's bracket (among others) and vote for Anna here. Or you can vote the Bach ticket all the way!

  24. People seem to be voting for the underdog. I don't mean that maliciously. Bach is in a much higher league than the holy Ms. Cooper.

    1. A higher league in what view of the world? If we are talking about doing saintly work and fulfilling those things which we have been called to do, like justice, then I really do not see how Bach is in a higher league in any sense.

  25. Bach is still reaching the masses in many ways -
    jazzy Bach:
    break-dancing Bach:
    spoon with Bach:
    raise a glass to Bach:
    interpret Bach in a modern way:
    Bach is always popular with the masses – vote for him!

    More (if interested) can be found at:

    1. And Bach has influenced music, church music, in so many more subtle ways that it is difficult to enumerate! He is an inspiration to all who have ever sung in the church, played an instrument in the glory of God's name, or otherwise participated in church music. Even the people in the pews -- how many times do any of us sing hymns that come to us from Bach?!