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Let the Whole World Sing

Corean Bakke’s unlikely journey from classical to world music
  • Rosalie de Rosset
  • April 24, 2020

When Corean (Jantz) Bakke ’59 arrived on Moody’s campus in 1956, she poured herself into the Sacred Music Course. As a gifted pianist, she later returned to Moody’s music faculty, where she taught from a classical tradition. Little did she know that unexpected life events would broaden the direction of her music and lead to a career as an ethnomusicologist around the world. Today Corean can no longer tell her own story because she is living with a brain disease called aphasia, which has robbed her of vocabulary and language recognition. “The music has stopped,” says her husband, Ray Bakke ’59. As a friend and former colleague, I wanted to capture a small part of her colorful and influential, behind-the-scenes life.

Corean’s musical training got its start in rural Montana and then in the Missouri Ozarks, where Corean lived with her home missionary parents under strict Mennonite influences. Her range of contacts was limited, but when the family visited cities, Corean was drawn to the urban environment.

She especially enjoyed worshiping in churches with “pipe organs, thick hymnals, and robed choirs.” So when Corean’s parents chose Moody Bible Institute for their daughter, she excelled at her craft and became accompanist for the Women’s Glee Club. But soon she saw how the realities of a touring choir collided with societal conventions.

Anita Bingham-Jefferson ’59, the only black girl in the group, had not signed up to go on tour. “No one would want to room with me,” she told Corean. This was 1956, and what white girl would share a bed with a black girl?

Corean immediately volunteered, beginning a friendship that continues to this day. Thinking back on the experience, Corean recalled how her eyes were opened to injustice and discrimination that had filtered down to the Christian community and church congregations.

Corean met Ray during their first semester at Moody when, assigned to the same ministry team, she became his pianist at Pacific Garden Mission. They quickly discovered a common interest in racial justice. Clearly, it was a divinely ordained match as both of them shared a love for the city and God’s work in it. They married after graduation. Ray became a world-renowned urban specialist, minister, and mentor. Meanwhile, Corean quietly pushed for change in varied ways while continuing her own prestigious music education (bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano performance), becoming a concert pianist, and teaching part time at Moody, a position that expanded into a faculty appointment in 1970. She also served in the city as an advocate for the invisible and the needy.

I had my first long conversation with Corean as her roommate on a Moody faculty retreat. That night she told me the poignant story of Brian, a homeless black boy they adopted who had become friends with their son Woody. The Bakkes also had a biological son named Brian.

When their adopted son Brian moved in, he brought black music into the family’s life “big time.” Each boy had the chore of doing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen after supper, their incentive that they could listen to their choice of music on the only radio in the house. Corean asked herself, “Does God appreciate Brian’s music as much as mine? If so, I’m in trouble.” She bought her first book on ragtime, and the search was on.

he also traveled with Ray, exploring music on six continents and performing genres of non-white and non-Eurocentric works. As Ray puts it, “Missiology shook open her western worldviews, accelerating what was happening in the city and her family.” She performed these works at Moody also and assigned her church music students non-traditional, classical worship services for learning and critiques. Her vacations with Ray included trips to Scott Joplin’s town in her home state of Missouri. Soon she was performing the music of black and Latin composers. In 1984 Corean, wanting to do a second master’s in theology and the arts, resigned from Moody after teaching 12 years part time and five years full time. Subsequently, she finished a doctorate on world Christian music and worship in many cultures. Her emphasis led prominent leaders to ask her to organize and lead worship planning for Lausanne II in Manila in 1989. From this emerged the book, Let the Whole World Sing: The Story Behind the Music of Lausanne II.

Don Hustad, her former Moody Chorale conductor, wrote a beautiful tribute to her for the book. He had been the worship planner for the First Lausanne Congress in 1974; Corean was his successor at Lausanne II. He wrote, “With her deep-seated conviction that all the cultures present at Manila should be faithfully represented in their own speech/music/ movement languages, she worked tirelessly to bring Christian artists together from around the world.” The book tells the stories of these singers, instrumentalists, actors, mimers, dancers, and puppeteers, including their planning, complex problems, and success. Notes Hustad, “She will convince you that it would never have happened apart from God’s will and not a few miracles.”

Corean and I were in touch for years, working together on a beautiful magazine called Christianity and the Arts, founded by one of her friends who says she could not have created the magazine without Corean. I had meals in her Victorian home whose oak floors gleamed from hand-waxing and whose lovely rooms were furnished from things she pulled from the alleys. She welcomed people of every color and walk of life including local merchants and mechanics, most foreign, to the concerts she performed on the grand piano in her living room.

She was always ahead of her time. As the leader of a citywide artist ministry in Chicago called CHART, when the AIDS crisis hit the city, Corean heard artists talk openly about the disease’s effect on their friends. Corean called church leaders to ask them if their denominations had resources to help people work through this crisis and heard only, “We don’t, but we’d like to.” She started researching HIV and AIDS and wrote a Bible discussion study titled, Time to Talk in Church about HIV and AIDS. While getting little attention in the United States, the book was translated into Russian through a serendipitous connection. Later she received a letter reporting that it was being used across 12 time zones to “bring people together to help those dying from the disease.” She was, in the words of her biological son Brian, “an agent of justice.”

In 2000, Corean and Ray moved to Washington State where Ray became chancellor and distinguished professor of Urban Ministry at Bakke Graduate University (Dr. Jobe’s alma mater). They bought land in Acme, and Corean designed the home they built for music and local symphony. Used over the years for recitals and fundraisers, hundreds of people have come to “Bakken” for retreats, concerts, walks, and tours of the house and library. In December 2019, just before her 81st birthday, they held an all-Chopin farewell concert, played by a brilliant young pianist she had befriended.

Corean’s actual playing has stopped, but the music of her life goes on. Her compositions and books are going out to a new generation; her home continues as a place of encouragement and rest. While sadly, their adopted son Brian died in 2018, their other two sons continue their parents’ legacy. Brian, who travels in grant development for Mustard Seed Foundation, lives in Washington, DC and is into all things Spanish; Woody, core faculty at the Lummi Nation High School on the Rez, is into all things Native. “Both,” says Ray, “are radical followers of Jesus glad to have been raised in Chicago.”

His mother, Brian told me, has chosen all the music and musicians for her own and Ray’s funerals. She said, “The musicians are practicing for mine.”

“Kids need help working through life,” she discovered. “And so do adults. And so hopefully I can impact every tongue, tribe, and nation—right here in Chicago. We can reach out to the South Side and the North Side and the West Side of Chicago, offering inspiration and creating opportunities.”

About the Author

  • Rosalie de Rosset

Dr. Rosalie de Rosset is professor of Communications and Literature at Moody Bible Institute.