A renowned composer, choral director, organist and educator, Dr. Walter Pelz (b. 1926) regularly performs recitals, dedications, and hymn festivals and appears as a clinician for organ and choral workshops throughout the United States. He has composed several hundred compositions including verses and offertories, anthems, solos, cantatas, hymns, choral symphonies, and organ works—many with instruments. He is affiliated with nine publishers. Most of his compositions are the result of commissions from colleges, churches, publishers, corporations, and private individuals. Several of his hymn tunes and harmonizations are included in recent hymnal supplements. Most recently he produced the CD Joy is Sounding for the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians (ALCM) which was released in 2002 and is available through them. His compositions have been performed in churches, colleges, and on radio and television in the United States and Europe.
A native of Chicago, Pelz studied organ at the American Conservatory of Music while attending and receiving his undergraduate degree from Concordia Teachers College—now Concordia University Chicago—in River Forest, Illinois. He received his master’s degree in organ and church music from Northwestern University. His doctorate in theory and composition was from the University of Minnesota where his organ instructor was Heinrich Fleischer and his composition instructors were Paul Fetler and Pulitzer-prize-winner Dominick Argento.
His position as a church organist goes back to his high school days. Early in his career he was a teacher in the Lutheran parochial school system where he also served as organist and choir director. He joined the Bethany College, Lindsborg, Kansas, music faculty in 1969 and taught theory, composition, piano, organ, directed choirs and was the college organist. Here he was named the Billue-Burnett Distinguished Professor in Music, a position he held until he took early retirement in 1989 in order to devote more time to composing and performing. Pelz was named Kansas Composer of the Year by the Kansas Federation of Music Clubs. His most recent honor was bestowed in August 2001 when he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Concordia University Chicago, “for his outstanding contribution to Christian Education through scholarly research and publications which are widely recognized and appreciated in the church and nation.” He is a charter member of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians and the American Guild of Organists where he holds the Choirmaster Certificate. In 2012 he received the Artist’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lindsborg Arts Council “ in recognition of his outstanding work with Bethany College music students and various choirs as well as for his composing and performance skills in organ music.”
Over many summers he was involved in numerous nationwide workshops to help introduce the Lutheran Book of Worship. He has served as organist at regional and national church conventions and has also performed in England and Germany. During his retirement he continues to maintain an active performance and composing schedule. Most recently he has formed the choral group, Bach at Bethany Singers, who have presented yearly concerts at Bethany Lutheran Church in Lindsborg.
He has been married for 63 years to his wife, Dolores, has three married daughters, eleven grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren.