J.S. Bach, the most famous dorm parent of all time?

A prosperous J.S. Bach in late middle age

Aside from the fact that I am (at least partly) of German stock, I never thought I had that much in common with renowned composer Johann Sebastian Bach. At least not until I visited the Bach Haus in Leipzig several months ago, where I discovered that we had one  surprising thing in common: Bach, like myself, was a dorm parent at a boarding school.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with American boarding-school terminology:

‘Dorm parents are adults who live in the dorms with students, taking on a parent-like role, or “in loco parentis”‘. [source]

I suppose the nearest equivalent in British English would be ‘boarding house master’.

This doesn’t sound like it has much to do with Bach, you may be thinking; usually we just associate him with fugues, cantatas, concertos and the like. Yet it turns out that as part of his duties as Music Director at the St Thomas Church in Leipzig, Bach had to spend one week in four acting as a dorm parent to the boys in the boarding school attached to the church, the aptly-named St Thomas School, which dates back to 1212.

It was literally part of Bach’s employment contract that, in addition to providing musical training for the boys and composing weekly cantatas for church services, he had to sleep in the school building, supervise the boys, and make sure that they were in bed when they were supposed to be, for one week a month. Not so unlike the duties of many a dorm parent at an American-style boarding school (including, until recently, myself)!

St Thomas’s Church Leipzig, pictured at the time Bach served there as Director of Music

Further reading
The only reference to Bach’s pastoral duties at the school which I could find, other than that in the Bach Haus itself, is on the German-language page bach.de.

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2 thoughts on “J.S. Bach, the most famous dorm parent of all time?

    1. Sorry for the late reply! So a dorm parent is basically the teacher who lives in the dormitory/boarding house with the students. As you can imagine, it’s something of a mixed blessing when your lives are that entwined. I was just tickled by the notion that the great Bach would have had to perform what amounted to menial duties.

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