Meet the Composer: Anne Krentz Organ

Anne Krentz Organ is one of the most popular composers in the Augsburg Fortress catalog. In this interview, we learn how she got started in church music, what she does today, and how she thinks about the creative process.

Could you tell us about your current job/vocation, outside of composing?

I currently serve as the Director of Music at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, IL. My responsibilities include worship planning, service playing, and the direction of the choral and instrumental music program which includes adult, youth, and children’s choirs, a handbell choir, and a variety of instrumental ensembles.

When did you first start composing?

My first formal attempt at composing came about when I was working on a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Church Music at Concordia University in Chicago. Instead of writing a final paper I opted to compose a set of piano pieces. I had the immense privilege to work with Richard Hillert as my faculty adviser on this project.

How did you become interested in composing?

I came to a career in church music in a roundabout way. I have a bachelor’s degree in piano performance, and a master’s degree in piano pedagogy. Piano teaching was my intended career. But the Spirit works in mysterious ways, and I began subbing for a Saturday evening service. Attendance was around 40-50 people, all of whom went up for communion at the same time, none of whom brought their hymnals along with them. There I would be, week after week, playing the communion hymn(s) verse by verse. That didn’t seem helpful, and at the same time, I was considering what to propose for my final project at Concordia. It occurred to me that some “Reflections” on hymn tunes for holy communion might be useful. I arranged five communion tunes for piano, which were subsequently published by Augsburg Fortress as my first collection of piano arrangements.

What is unique about composing versus other areas of focus, as a musician?

Much of what I do as a musician involves other people: directing choirs, working with instrumentalists, leading assembly song. Composing is a solitary activity, more along the lines of practicing the piano or organ. Composing requires a certain mind set—an ability to concentrate very specifically on the task at hand, and yet also to be open to taking an idea in a new direction. I would guess that most composers are highly self-motivated. Self-motivation plus a deadline is a winning combination.

Could you tell us the story behind one or two of your favorite Augsburg Fortress pieces?

The arrangement of “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” for instrument and piano in Woven Together is dedicated to my son Paul. Paul was 5 or 6 years old at the time, an exuberant child who was going through a skipping phase. Why walk when you can skip? I tried to capture the ebullience and light-hearted joy of skipping by writing parts of the piece in 5/8 meter, keeping the melody in 6/8.

The choral arrangement of the “Canticle of the Turning” was written for one of the annual Candlelight Service of Lessons and Carols at St. Luke’s. This year will be the 79th incarnation of the service. It’s a big deal at St. Luke’s! We include all the choirs, from the littlest kindergarten singers up through the youth and adult choirs, and an array of instrumentalists including a Flute Choir, Recorder Consort, Orff Ensemble, Handbell Choir, Brass Ensemble, and Chamber Orchestra. The Canticle of the Turning lent itself well to use by multiple choirs—verses being assigned to a variety of voicings, with piano and instrumental accompaniment, and an opportunity for the assembly to join in singing the refrain.

View and order Anne’s pieces on the Augsburg Fortress website:

Reflections on Hymn Tunes for Holy Communion

Woven Together: Reflections for Piano and Solo Instrument

Canticle of the Turning

Anne Krentz Organ

Anne Krentz Organ serves as the Director of Music Ministries at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. She is also composer of many works of church music, particularly choral and piano. She has served as president of Region III of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians.

Key Signatures and Effective Assembly Singing

Those who accompany singing in worship services have many factors to consider in order to lead effectively, including: text, tempo, mood, dynamics, articulation, registration, and key. This last musical parameter, the key signature, is often overlooked when accompanying assembly singing. We may alter the tempo to encourage better singing; we may change registration from verse to verse to build to a climax; we may underscore textual imagery by playing with a different articulation. We may even modulate up a half-step and play a re-harmonization to boost singing on the final verse. But, how often do we think about the written key signature as something that can be changed entirely to enable better participation from the gathered assembly?

Play a hymn in a higher key to enhance the brilliance of the tune and to call for extra energy from the singers. Most modern hymnals include “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (Ein feste Burg) in the key of C major, but its original key is D major. When I have accompanied this hymn in the key of D major, at the conclusion of a worship service with a large assembly, the results have been astounding! Other hymns that work effectively in higher keys include: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” (Lobe den Herren) in G major; “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” (Mendelssohn) in G major; and “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” (Easter Hymn) in D major.

Play a hymn in a lower key to create a more subdued mood or to allow the assembly to warmup their voices. I remember a funeral service where I played “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (Converse) in E-flat major (rather than F major) to lower the tune’s high tessitura—the small, aged assembly could sing a beloved hymn with greater ease. At early morning worship services, I have occasionally sacrificed the brilliance of higher keys on opening hymns to provide an opportunity for groggy voices to wake up: “Crown Him with Many Crowns” (Diademata) in C major; “When Morning Gilds the Skies” (Laudes Domini) in B-flat major; and “Oh, Worship the King” (Hanover) in F major.

If accompanying a hymn in a key other than the one printed is something you’d like to try, here are some practical ways to do that:

  • The tune may be found in another key elsewhere in the hymnal or in a different hymnal. Use a hymnal’s tune index to locate other instances of the tune. Online resources like Prelude Music Planner and CCLI Song Select are also able to display hymns/songs in different keys.
  • If you are raising or lowering the key by a half-step (e.g., from D major to D-flat major), you may be able to convert keys using the “rule of sevens.” Sharp keys can be played as flat keys, and vice versa, by playing the notes on the same positions within the staff (2:5, 3:4, 1:6). Keep in mind when converting from a flat key to a sharp key that accidental flats become naturals and naturals become sharps. And, when converting from a sharp key to a flat key, the reverse is true: sharps become naturals, and naturals become flats.
  • Write out the tune in another key ahead of time. If you are adept at using music notation software, scanning and editing may save time. Otherwise, a pencil and staff paper work just fine.
  • Dust off your keyboard harmony skills and transpose by sight. This is easier to do on hymns/songs that rely heavily on primary chords (I-IV-V). Be sure to practice ahead of time when attempting this on chorale-style hymns.
  • If your organ (or electronic keyboard) is equipped with MIDI, you can use the transpose button to lower or raise the key. Of course, be sure to reset to ‘0’ for the remainder of the service!
Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw studied theology and music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as composer, college professor, music engraver, and church musician. He has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, and reading sessions at numerous conferences, churches, and universities throughout the United States. His publishers include Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Hope, Kjos, MorningStar, and Shawnee.

Christmas in July: Piano/Organ Repertoire for Advent/Christmas

I love the holiday season—even though it can be a stressful time—and I love the music that accompanies Advent and Christmas. Every year, I look forward to taking out my collection of seasonal music and playing through it again, and it always feels like spending time with good friends I haven’t seen for a while. It’s July, so you may (or may not!) be in planning mode for the upcoming year—I hope you’ll consider programming some of the following piano and organ repertoire. These are some of my favorite resources, and I find myself turning to them over and over again. Most of these titles are available through Prelude Music Planner. Some are in the public domain and are available (for free!) through the International Music Score Library Project (*

PIANO selections

  • Piano Reflections on Advent Tunes, by Anne Krentz Organ (Augsburg Fortress). This lovely collection of eight Advent tunes includes some not commonly arranged for piano, like Star of County Down (“Canticle of the Turning”) and Lucent (“As the Dark Awaits the Dawn”).
  • Advent Piano Variations, by Lee Dengler (Concordia). In this collection, each tune is given three settings, which can be played individually or together. I find that kind of versatility to be extremely useful in “real life” situations where music may need to be extended or abbreviated. Tunes include: Veni Emmanuel, Bereden väg för Herran, and Freu dich sehr.
  • Hymn Settings for the Year: 55 Piano Gems, by Timothy Shaw (Augsburg Fortress). The pieces in this collection span the liturgical calendar, and all of them are relatively short. They make good interludes and hymn introductions. Eight Advent/Christmas tunes are in this book: Besançon, Greensleeves, Il est né, Mendelssohn (hymn accompaniment), Picardy, Sussex Carol, Veni Emmanuel, and W żłobie leży.
  • Christmas Jazz: Suite for Piano, by John Carter (Augsburg Fortress). There are ten tunes in this delightful collection that has a jazzy flare. Chord voicings and subtle syncopations make these settings really sparkle. My two favorites are Veni Emmanuel and Es ist ein Ros.
  • Christmas Piano Variations, by Lee Dengler (Concordia). Like the Advent collection above, this book includes three settings on three tunes: W żłobie leży, Personent hodie, and Es ist ein Ros. Each one features excellent, idiomatic writing for the piano.
  • Miscellaneous titles
    • Franz Liszt wrote a suite of twelve pieces titled Weihenachtsbaum (“Christmas Tree”). There are two that I often play, and neither is difficult to learn: no. 3, The Shepherds at the Manger (In dulci jubilo) and no. 4, Adeste fidelis (March of the Three Holy Kings).
    • The ninth movement of Max Reger’s Aus der Jugendzeit (op. 17) is titled Weihnachtstraum, and it is a fantasy on Stille Nacht. While Reger is better known for his organ compositions, this delicate piano piece is a beautiful choice for Christmas Eve services.

ORGAN selections

  • For Manuals Only: Advent and Christmas, by Edwin T. Childs (Augsburg Fortress). These eleven settings are well-written yet easy to play. This is a great choice for organists who are unable to invest a lot of time in rehearsal.
  • Partita on Savoir of the Nations, Come, by Timothy Shaw (Concordia). This partita is quite effective on modest instruments with limited tonal colors. The movements include: I. Chorale, II. Aria, III. Duo, IV. Variation, V. Canon, and VI. Major.
  • Simply Christmas, by John Leavitt (Concordia). You can use this volume in its entirety in one Christmas worship service or separately throughout the season. The pieces are designed as prelude, offertory, communion meditation, and postlude (there are two postludes). With minimal pedal, you won’t need to invest a lot of time learning these settings: Fum Fum Fum, Puer Natus in Bethlehem, Divinum mysterium, Gloria, and The First Nowell.
  • A Quiet Christmas, by Douglas Wagner (Hope). The six settings in this collection are perfect for reflective moments in Christmas services. My favorites from this book are Il est né and Noël nouvelet.
  • The Oxford Book of Christmas Organ Music, compiled by Robert Gower (Oxford). This anthology should be on every church organist’s bookshelf. Ranging from easy to difficult, the pieces in this collection span the centuries—Buxtehude and Bach are well-represented, alongside David Willcocks and John Rutter. While not suggested by the title, there are a couple Advent tunes included, too.
  • Miscellaneous titles
    • Johann Pachelbel wrote some fascinating chorale preludes. One of my favorites to use during Advent, and one that is not too difficult to learn, is Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland (P. 386).
    • Near the end of his life, Johannes Brahms (uncharacteristically) wrote Eleven Chorale Preludes (op. 122) for organ.The eighth is a tender, manuals-only setting of Es ist ein Ros. Sometimes, I play this on piano, which works equally well.

*Please obey the copyright laws of your country. IMSLP does not assume any sort of legal responsibility or liability for the consequences of downloading files that are not in the public domain in your country.

Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw studied theology and music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as composer, college professor, music engraver, and church musician. He has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, and reading sessions at numerous conferences, churches, and universities throughout the United States. His publishers include Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Hope, Kjos, MorningStar, and Shawnee.

The Augsburg Chorale Book: Five Hundred Years of Singing (and Counting!)

The party’s over. 2017 has come and gone, and with it, the sesquicentennial of Martin Luther and the Reformation. The concerts, lectures, and ecumenical worship celebrations have concluded. The exhibits have come down, and the newly made banners and paraments have been put away. A Mighty Fortress is Our God is taking a well-earned rest.

Except, of course, the anniversary is really just beginning. 2017 marked 500 years since Luther’s 1517 posting of the 95 Theses. And while that event may have been the Reformation’s catalyst, there are many other landmarks whose 500th birthday is still ahead of us—including the most important ones for worship and music.

Take, for example, Luther’s orders for worship, the Formulae Missae of 1523 and the Deutsche Messe of 1526. These two documents introduced many important reforms, one of which was the formalization of vernacular hymn singing within the liturgy. Those hymns were chorales, the first of which were written and published by Luther and his colleagues in 1523 and 1524.[1] Over time, the chorales grew and evolved into one of the most robust genres in Western hymnody. Lutheran chorales inspired tens of thousands of choral arrangements, organ settings, and instrumental works, from the 1520s through the present day.

The Augsburg Chorale Book is a new contribution to this vibrant tradition. The Chorale Book contains twenty-nine choral settings of chorales by Lutheran composers from the sixteenth century to the present. Hymn-like cantionale settings by J. S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn stand alongside polyphonic motets by Johann Walter, Hugo Distler, and Johannes Brahms. New settings by composers like Nancy Raabe, Bradley Ellingboe, John Ferguson, and Anne Krentz Organ provide twenty-first century interpretations of these historic texts and tunes. In fact, fourteen of the twenty-nine works in the Augsburg Chorale Book were newly composed for this collection. (To see the Chorale Book’s Table of Contents and some sample pages, click here.)

Voicings include unison, two-part, three-part mixed (SAB), and SATB, so there are possibilities for choirs of all types and sizes. A variety of instrumentation choices make the Chorale Book even more diverse. Several settings may be performed unaccompanied (or with keyboard doubling), while others include carefully crafted organ accompaniments. Ten of the works in the collection include optional or obligato string, woodwind, or brass instruments.

Each setting features performance notes that provide a brief biography of the composer, background information on the setting, and suggestions for use. That last category is important: Chorales were intended for communal singing, and the earliest choral arrangements were performed in alternation with the congregation. Many of the settings in the Chorale Book can be used similarly, and the performance notes suggest how to do so (in cases where it isn’t immediately obvious).

So: Although 2017 is over, the 500th anniversary of the chorale and Lutheran contributions to congregational song are still (at least) five years away. The Augsburg Chorale Book and other Augsburg Fortress resources like the Chantry Choirbook and Bach for all Seasons, give us the opportunity to continue to sing our songs in these “in-between times.” Which, of course, is really what the chorales (and all hymns) are for: They are not supposed to be saved for festivals and commemorations, but are to be sung in the regular, weekly worship gatherings of the faithful in all times and places. That is how they form us in faith and shape us in song.

[1] Eight different chorale texts and four tunes were published in the first Lutheran hymnal, the Etlich Christliche Lieder, in 1524. They had previously been published as broadsheets in 1523 and 1524. For a brief history of the origin of the Lutheran chorale, see Highben, Zebulon M., “Reviving Sacred Song: 500 Years of the Lutheran Chorale in its Congregational and Choral Contexts,” Choral Journal 58, no. 1 (August 2017): 36-46.

Zebulon Highben

Zebulon M. Highben is a conductor-educator, composer, and church musician. Currently Director of Choral Activities at Muskingum University (New Concord, OH), he previously taught at Luther Seminary and the University of Wisconsin River Falls, and served Lutheran and Presbyterian parishes in Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota. Since 2005 he has been the Paul Bouman Chapel Choir Director at the annual Lutheran Summer Music Academy & Festival. His compositions are frequently performed by church, school, and community ensembles, and are published by Augsburg Fortress, Boosey & Hawkes, GIA Publications, and MorningStar Music. Highben studied at Ohio State University (B.M.E.), Luther Seminary and St. Olaf College (M.S.M.), Michigan State University (D.M.A.), and is a rostered Associate in Ministry in the ELCA.

Summer Music

Do your choirs take a break over the summer months? I know of several churches in which the choirs continue to sing all year round, but more frequently I hear of choirs being “off” for the summer. If this is the case for you, rather than viewing it as a loss, consider it an opportunity to branch out and incorporate a variety of other vocal and instrumental ensembles. Tap the home-grown musical talent in your church and community.

In addition to providing a different sound, offering a men’s or a women’s choir for one of the summer Sundays can serve as a recruitment tool for your mixed choir that sings during the rest of the year. Schedule one or two rehearsals, choose a psalm setting and/or a choral anthem, perhaps arrange a verse of one of the hymns for the day, and see what happens! Hopefully, you will get a mix of regular choir singers plus some new people who might like to give it a try and for whom the short-term commitment is very appealing. Be welcoming to new singers; keep the rehearsal positive and encouraging. You are planting seeds which may or may not take root and grow for the long term. That’s okay! You are providing a path for the Holy Spirit to move through your church in a new way.

Intergenerational music ensembles are another area for exploration. Maybe your women’s choir could instead be a treble choir (women, girls, and boys with unchanged voices).

Do you have any brass players? Think beyond the regulars that you tap for Easter Sunday—are there teenagers who play in their school band? Could you organize a group to play one Sunday, with the more experienced adult players mentoring the youth? Train these younger musicians to play hymns, leading the assembly’s song. It’s a win-win situation. Your congregation gets to have festive music on an ordinary green Sunday, and the instrumentalists get valuable experience playing for worship. Let the more experienced players do a bang-up prelude—line up some percussionists and do Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.

Likewise, are there string or woodwind players available? Even the youngest Suzuki learner has appropriate music to offer. For more proficient players, could you pull together a string trio or quartet, a woodwind quintet, or even possibly a small chamber orchestra? If you have a few players, ask if they have musician friends who might like to commit to one summer Sunday. Music is an excellent entry point for people who are new to the church. Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Rhosymedre is a wonderful piece to do with strings; if you only have a couple of players, the organist could play the piece with the strings doubling on their parts.

Percussionists are often overlooked as soloists, but if you have a decent high school player, chances are he/she could borrow the school’s marimba and offer a fabulous prelude piece. You could also include the marimba on one or more hymns. This can be especially effective with Hispanic music.

If your church has handbells, gather a few people and have them play a quartet. There are plenty of arrangements available that do not require a full handbell choir. Include a pentatonic hymn and have the ringers do a random ring as accompaniment, or chant the psalm that Sunday with handbell chords as punctuation.

Summer is a good time to encourage duets, trios, and other small ensembles. Are there particular families with multiple musicians? Or groups within the congregation, such as a middle school or high school social group? Of course, there may also be people who would like to sing or play a solo. For instrumentalists, in addition to a solo, encourage them to play melody and/or descants along with the hymns. Your congregation will appreciate the enhancement to their song.

Summer will be here before you know it, so begin thinking, recruiting, and planning now!

Anne Krentz Organ

Anne Krentz Organ serves as the Director of Music Ministries at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. She is also composer of many works of church music, particularly choral and piano. She has served as president of Region III of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians.

Choral Music for Holy Week: Sunday of the Passion and the Three Days

It goes without saying that Holy Week is one of the busiest times of the church year for choirs and their directors. But along with the high demands of singing for multiple services within the span of six or seven days (let alone the “eighth day” of Easter!) come the great rewards of proclaiming the Gospel through a wide variety of music in the most dramatic liturgies of the church year.

What follows is a listing of some of my favorite choral music for the liturgies of Holy Week, focusing on some of the choral elements unique to those liturgies. In other words, you’ll have to look elsewhere to find recommendations for more typical anthems, psalms, gospel acclamations, and hymns settings. For many of my recommendations, I’m relying on my go-to general choral collections:

Sunday of the Passion

The most common task of the choir unique to the Sunday of the Passion is the singing of a processional anthem—a festive way to conclude the procession with palms—based on some version of the text “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The popularity of this function of the choir is evidenced by the abundance of such anthems. The following are some of my favorites:

    • “Sing Hosanna to the Son of David,” Bartholomew Gesius (CCB, FMB)
    • “Hosanna to the Son of David,” Orlando Gibbons (SSAATB or SSATTB) (
    • “Hosanna to the Son of David,” David Morgan (NCAB)
    • “Hosanna to the Son of David,” Ronald Nelson (SAB) (AFP 11-1258, out of print)
    • “Hosanna! Blessed Is He,” Knut Nystedt (SAB or 2-part) (ACB)
    • Hosanna to the Son of David,” Tomas Luis de Victoria (GIA G-4575)

Maundy Thursday

There are two elements unique to the Maundy Thursday liturgy in which the choir can participate. The first is the foot washing. The text most commonly associated with this action is some version of “Where Charity and Love” (or the original Latin, Ubi caritas et amor). Even if the foot washing is not practiced in your church, this text is still worth singing. I’m limiting myself to settings of the text in English since the Latin settings (including the most famous, by Maurice Durufle) tend to be more difficult.

The second element unique to Maundy Thursday is the stripping of the altar. Various psalms have been appointed for this action, perhaps the most common being Psalm 22. Almost any setting of this or any other appointed psalm would be appropriate. There are too many available for it to be worth winnowing, except to draw your attention to those in the resources mentioned above, not to mention the simple but effective practice of using a psalm tone—Gregorian, Anglican, hymnal, or other. But there is one setting of Psalm 22 that I think is particularly appropriate for this action, a responsorial setting with stunning text-painting:

    • My God, My God,” David Clark Isele, from Psalms for the Church Year (GIA G-2262).

Good Friday

If your church follows a Tenebrae service, you may be interested in some settings of either the Passion according to John or the Solemn Reproaches (two elements unique to the Good Friday liturgy). The following may be of some help:

Passion according to John. In these settings the choir takes the role of the turba (or crowd) and cantors takes the roles of the evangelist, Jesus, and other characters:

Solemn Reproaches


Vigil of Easter

Most of the music for the Vigil of Easter is readily handled by cantor or cantors, which is a relief to members of your choir who may need to be back at church early the next morning. The music that can be taken by the choir includes the responses to the readings of the Vigil—traditionally, psalms and canticles from the Old Testament. For these, please check the season-specific collections above or other lists of recommendations like the one found on The pieces on these lists tend to be taken from the general choral repertoire instead of pieces based on the actual appointed psalmodic texts, but there are a number of choral pieces that are:

I hope you will find something of use in these suggestions, whether it is for this fast-approaching Holy Week or for the many to come in your service to the risen Christ and his Church.

A “Choral Ecology” in Worship Music Planning

Within our congregations and personal lives, we have increasingly clear understanding of the ways our personal decisions around our use of resources matter. How can we carry this sense of stewardship into the planning and care we exhibit for resources of wisdom, people, talent, time, and connection in our worship services? Over recent years I have grown to plan anthems, service music, and other choir roles with a much clearer view of the “ecosystem” volunteer church choirs exist in. Intentional planning with this awareness has helped to provide increased comfort and musical consistency in the growth and leadership of my choirs, it has broadened our choral and congregational repertoire without (much) resistance, and it has helped to deepen theological and liturgical connections in an era of widely varied attendance patterns. Others have articulated well the introduction of new hymns into a congregation’s repertoire, so I will not repeat that process here but focus directly on choral leadership.

Planning with a “Choir Ecology” in mind includes carefully planned repetition of works to build a repertoire and increase the familiarity so the choir can grow in musicianship and focus on more nuanced and artistic goals. It includes opportunities to use hymn-based settings as true choral anthems, but once learned to pull individual introductions, verses, transitions, or descants from them with congregational singing. Finally, and the hardest for me, it means that I must confess and let go of my desire for the “perfect” anthem for a service when the “perfect” anthems for three weeks in one month would stretch my singers to (or beyond) their limits. Instead, I find an excellent or good fit for text and music that will give time to the stretch anthems of nearby weeks and have singers feeling good about their abilities and their leadership in rehearsal and worship. Meaningful worship leadership is more than getting most of the notes right!

An example of these tensions in practice this year will show some of these priorities in action. This winter, our adult choir is in transition with an interim organist through Lent and Easter. Long-range planning (completed before personnel and start dates could be confirmed) required a more reserved plan for coordination in some weeks, and a sermon series departing from the RCL encouraged reflection on new connections between Lenten, Holy Week, and Easter Liturgies.

Good volunteer adult choir winter plan

(about 25 singers on a Sunday, about 35 “members”)

1/7 K. Nystedt, This is My Beloved Son, SAB (Concordia): very short

1/14 R. Hobby, God Has Called Us, SATB (MorningStar): repeated from an Installation last summer

1/21 E. Hovland, The Glory of the Father, SSATB a cappella (GIA): hard for us to do well

1/28 Z. Highben, O God of Light, SATB (Augsburg): hymn concertato

2/4 Two selections: 1.) J. Campbell, God Heals the Brokenhearted, SATB (Augsburg): Psalm text setting; 2.) Scripture chanting with percussion guest

2/11 Two selections: 1.) K. Nystedt, This is My Beloved Son: returns to bookend the Sundays after the Epiphany with its parallel text; 2.) Christiansen, My God, How Wonderful Thou Art, SSATB a cappella (Augsburg, 1968): a good challenge

2/18 R. Hillert, God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending, SATB (Hope): familiar hymn concertato repeated from last year (congregation will sing this hymn in March, connecting a Lenten series on the Cross)

2/25 T. Noble, Go To Dark Gethsemane, SATB a cappella (Alfred): not as hard as it looks

3/4 J. Ferguson, Ah, Holy Jesus (from St. John Passion), SATB (Augsburg): hymn concertato, familiar

3/11 J. Ferguson, When We Are Tempted to Deny Your Son (from St. John Passion), SATB (Augsburg): new to us

3/18 Two selections: 1.) J. Ireland, Greater Love Hath No Man, SATB (ECS/MorningStar): big English organ-anthem; 2.) P. Christiansen, Wondrous Love, SATB (Augsburg): used only in part as transition in service (congregation will sing this hymn March 25)

3/25 G. Martin, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, SATB (Presser): a choir favorite we have not sung in several years

John Sall

John Sall’s life-long connection to music in the church was nurtured in the rich resources of a strong Lutheran Church, public school, and private music study in Holdrege, Nebraska, and through the Lutheran Summer Music program. A graduate of St. Olaf College, John majored in Church Music and Organ with John Ferguson. Graduate conducting studies with Alan Harler attended the Master of Music at Temple University where John was honored with the Elaine Brown Tribute Award, presented each year for work in “relating music to broader issues of community-building and human expression.” John serves as Director of Music Ministries at Abington Presbyterian Church (Abington, PA), founded in 1714, where he leads youth and adult choirs and the Abington Symphony Orchestra and oversees congregational music programs and the Music at Abington concert series.

The Lutheran Roots of an Epiphany Vespers

Ten years ago this month, the most important premiere of my life took place. Piffaro, the Renaissance Band commissioned from me a concert-length Vespers.

The project was unusual from the beginning. Early-music groups aren’t known for commissioning contemporary composers, nor do instrumental ensembles routinely ask for choral music. But Piffaro partnered with the new-music choir The Crossing for this liturgical and—to me, the most compelling aspect—Lutheran work. I was to reimagine music from the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation. Musically, this was the High Renaissance, and so it made sense for Piffaro after all.

They asked me because I am Lutheran. Raised Lutheran, I had composed, throughout my career, Lutheran service music and had used Lutheran music in concert works.

The concerts were scheduled for early January, so this would be an Epiphany Vespers. Along with bits of two Latin chants and much original melodic material, I chose some of the great Lutheran Epiphany chorales.

Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (ELW 308) topped the list, but I couldn’t get the first movement of Bach’s Cantata No. 1, on the same chorale, out of my head. I finally kept myself from writing bad Bach by simplifying lines and focusing on counterpoint. Heraldic shawms and text-painting showed the way.

Because of text-painting, I set the beautiful Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn (ELW 309) in four, then 8, then 16 parts. The 16-voice third verse (different from ELW) overflows at (in my translation) “That we may taste your sweetness, / fill up our hearts’ completeness / so that we thirst for you.” At “you” (dir in German), a single voice holds one high note, one of the most arresting moments in Vespers, I think.

In dir ist Freude (ELW 867), the rollicking Italian tune, is accompanied by the small Renaissance guitar. O Jesu Christe, wahres Licht (675) is a tenor counter-melody against the Magnificat’s three-soprano canon. Nun danket all und bringet Ehr (847) is an instrumental triple canon. Luther’s Vater unser (746) and O süßer Herre Jesu Christ (from the Evangelisches Kirchengesangbuch, EKG, my wife and I knew when she directed music at Philadelphia’s German-language Tabor Lutheran) rounded out the chorales quoted. I was set.

But Piffaro’s co-director Robert Wiemken called, four days before the premiere, with a problem. Could we insert an interlude between the Psalm 70 Introit (Make haste, O God, to deliver me) and Psalm 27 (The Lord is my light and my salvation)? They’re long, the choir could use a break, and another piece just for Piffaro would be great. He was not asking me to compose more; he had chosen something from that time-period as a stop-gap.

I later told Bob, laughing, that he could not have worded it any better to get me to write something new. Thus, Steht auf, ihr lieben Kinderlein!, another EKG chorale I hadn’t found a place for. (The tune is also known as O heilige Dreifaltigkeit, ELW 571.) The five-voice sonata I wrote in two days is one of the most-performed sections of Vespers. (See it here, for brass quintet.)

In 10 years I’ve transcribed much of Vespers for modern instruments. Bach, ironically, shows up after all. I re-orchestrated four movements to the instrumentation of his Cantata No. 1 for a concert this month.

Vespers had a huge impact on my career, but more significantly, it changed my composing. The Lutheran tradition, tunes, and texts energized a circuit in me, empowering my music in a sudden, unpredictable way. With all wonder and gratitude, I have to say: It was an epiphany.

Kile Smith

Of the many raves for Kile Smith's Vespers, Gramophone called it “spectacular,” and the American Record Guide, “a major new work.” Two concert-length choral works will be recorded in 2018, Canticle (with a new Alleluia) with Craig Hella Johnson and the Vocal Arts Ensemble, and The Arc in the Sky with Donald Nally and The Crossing. Major choral works will be heard in Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Cincinnati, and England this year, Lyric Fest releases a CD of Kile's vocal music, and he has been awarded an Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts to compose his first opera, The Book of Job. Kile continues to write chamber and orchestral works, anthems and other service music for Lutheran and other churches, and he is the composer in residence for the Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. Many of his works are distributed by MusicSpoke.

Making Biblical Stories Come Alive through Song:  Sing the Stories of Jesus

One of my favorite collections of songs for children is the book Sing the Stories of Jesus by John Horman and Mary Nelson Keithahn. It is chock-full of songs based on various stories from the Gospels, some well-known stories and some that are often overlooked.  Several songs are simple enough to be used for Sunday School groups, but all are perfect for young singers in choirs.  They cover events of Jesus’ life from the angels’ Gloria at his birth to Breakfast by the Sea after the resurrection. Instructions for teaching are included for each song as well as an accompaniment CD if you need it. Over time, I have taught and directed many of these songs, but I’d like to share the way I have taught, embellished, and performed four of my favorites from this collection.

Jesus Is Baptized

Jesus was baptized by John, * down by the riverside. This is an echo song.  Each phrase is sung by a leader then echoed by the choir. I sing the Leader part and have my singers respond in echo, making it instantly easy to teach notes, to model good singing, and to model good diction. (Be sure to not sing an ending R on ‘river’.)  This song is rhythmic and has a bouncy, happy accompaniment that keeps the movement going forward. We add a clap at the beginning of the second phrase of the song on the rest ( * down by the riverside).  I suggest teaching the clap first and separately – speak in rhythm over and over.  This next embellishment makes my singers smile! We extend the song’s ending; the piano repeats the final measure an octave lower and then another octave lower — going down, down, down – as low as you can go. This creates visual and auditory text painting.

The Storm

Storm winds blew, the waves rose high.  “Save us, Jesus, or we’ll die!”  Jesus woke and said, “Be still!”  Wind and waves obeyed his will. We use a 2-octave set of choir chimes and colorful scarves (or wide ribbons) to bring this story to life.  Choose D minor notes ( D, E, F, A ) to create a cluster chord.  Have some children play the cluster chord on the 3rd beat of each of the opening measures.  Repeat the opening two measures to make a longer intro. The other children each hold a scarf at a corner (tell them to pinch a corner) and sway in half notes side to side from the beginning of the introduction.  At “save us” the children swish the scarves over their heads as if signaling for help.  Next they slowly bring the scarves to the front and on the word “still!” they hold it straight out, frozen. After the word “will” they slowly lower the scarves and on the final chord they drop the scarves to the ground while the cluster chords play again on beat 3. Very effective.

Teach Us How to Pray

“Jesus, teach us how to pray,” asked his friends along the way.  “Help us find the words to say what is in our hearts today.”  When learning this song, we talk about the disciples’ question to Jesus and his answer to them – the Lord’s Prayer.  First we sing through the song and then our accompanist replays the entire song quietly (and improvises a bit) while we speak the Lord’s Prayer together over the music.  We add hand motions for each petition of the prayer, ending with an Amen.  I have used this in worship and in a choir camp performance.  To avoid having the listeners and other worshipers applaud at the end  (‘yeah, good prayer!’), I keep my conductor’s hands raised at the ‘Amen’, and we go straight into another song of similar mood and tempo or the accompanist continues playing as the children settle. Another meaningful way to use these motions is to pray silently and just pray with the motions.  Powerful.  Email me for a short video of the motions.

Jesus Heals Ten Lepers

Ten who had a bad disease called to Jesus “Help us, please!”  Jesus healed them all that day, sent them on along their way.  Only one returned to say “Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you!”  But where were the other nine?  “Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you!”  Children love to count and to ask questions in songs.  A unique way to introduce this song is to give choir chimes or handbells, one to each of 11 singers or double up with 6 singers. You are counting and naming the characters in the story.  Select 11 bells going up the pentatonic C major scale:  C, D, E, G, A, C, D, E, G, A, C. Line the children up in order, low to high notes, and as an introduction have each chime ring (low to high) while all the children count:  ring C “1”, ring D “2”, ring E “3”…all the way to ring C”10″.  After the last chime (the eleventh), all say “Jesus!” At the end of the song, all chimes ring in a giant cluster chord.  Embellishing this way includes more children, lengthens the song, and helps endear the story to your singers.

I encourage you to learn and teach all the songs in this collection to your singers.  Each provides an excellent opportunity for teaching good diction, phrasing, and tonal quality as well as important moments from the life of Jesus.

Karol Kinard Kimmell

Karol Kinard Kimmell, a life-long Lutheran, is Director of Youth & Children's Music at All Saints' Episcopal Church in downtown Atlanta, directing four singing choirs (PreK - 12th grade) and three ringing choirs (4th grade - Adults). Karol serves as co-director and clinician at the summer music experience, Lutheridge (NC) Music Week (20 years). She serves on the faculty of the Choristers Guild Institute, a 3-year certification program for children's church choral directors, and has recently accepted the co-director's position for the CG Institute. Karol was on the task force and faculty for ALCM's Young Lutherans Sing. She attended Wittenberg University and Lenoir-Rhyne University, graduating from LRU with a music education degree/organ. She sang in the NYC Riverside Church Choir in the 1980's and the Atlanta Bach Choir and Atlanta's Baroque Camarati in the 1990's. She received training in Orff Schulwerk, KinderMusic, and Rhythmically Moving. Karol has presented for GA ACDA, ALCM, Augsburg Fortress, and Choristers Guild, directed the NC All State Elementary Chorus (2009), and led children's choirs at various summer music camps: Massanetta Springs, Lutheridge, Bonclarken, and Mabel Boyter Choir Camp.

With New Voices—The Small Catechism in Song

If you flip to the back of Evangelical Lutheran Worship in search of one of the indices, you might end up taking a quick tour through the Small Catechism first. Nestled between the daily lectionary and the copyright acknowledgments are the words every Lutheran has had to memorize (at least part of!) during confirmation class. Its physical presence in our primary worship book is a reminder that like the heritage of hymns, tunes, and liturgies contained in ELW, we are meant to carry these words with us as we worship, pray, and live faithfully in the world.

In 2016 Bishop Elizabeth Eaton invited the ELCA to read or re-read Martin Luther’s Small Catechism together as part of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. “The Small Catechism is a treasure too good for just early adolescence,” Eaton explained in her invitational video. To that end, Augsburg Fortress has just published a set of resources called By Heart: Conversations with Martin Luther’s Small Catechism which joyfully and colorfully explores the text in depth. We might add that it’s also a treasure too good not to explore in music. Below are some musical resources that interpret portions the Small Catechism and may be helpful to music directors looking to integrate their congregation’s study of the text with worship. This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully, it will be a good catalyst for other pieces in your libraries on the same themes.


Ten Commandments

Creed (Choral)

Creed (Organ)

Lord’s Prayer (Choral)

Lord’s Prayer (Organ)

Baptism (Choral)

Baptism (Organ)

Confession (Choral)

Communion (Choral)

Communion (Organ)

Morning/Evening/Table blessings (Choral)

Morning/Evening/Table blessings (Organ / Piano)

If I know any scripture by heart, it’s probably because I have sung it as a hymn or anthem. Singing allows us to embody the Word in a deeper way, and helps us carry that text within us for the rest of our lives. By singing the Small Catechism we can provide an opportunity to discuss those texts during rehearsals or bulletin notes as well as help our choirs and congregations carry those words with them, wherever they go, by heart.

David Sims

David Sims is the Music Development Manager at Augsburg Fortress, where he will direct development and production of choral, instrumental, and congregational song resources. Since 2014 he has served as Cantor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, and prior to that worked as an organ builder and church musician in Indiana. David grew up in the cornfields of central Illinois and holds degrees in Church Music and Organ Performance from St. Olaf College and Indiana University. His compositions are published by Augsburg Fortress and GIA, and you can usually find him on a search for a new hymn text, recipe, or a source of coffee.