An Appreciation

We so rejoice in the heavenly gifts he now receives as a part of his eternal reward, not the least of which is again being with his beloved Noël.

We marvel at the gifts he bestowed on the Church and on each of us—

  • he gave us enduring hymn tunes;
  • he gave us a trove of sacred music which will be treasured for generations;
  • he gave us a model of churchmanship, marked by a winsome manner, full of humor and humility;
  • he gave us each other. Through his tireless efforts, Carl Schalk raised (restored really) the vocation of church music with its discipline and “high and holy calling.” He played a major role in lifting up the church musician (cantor) as a vital part of a congregation’s ministry. He established the Biblical and theological basis for everything we do and showed us how to do it in a practical and effective manner. And he found ways to link us all together (Lectures in Church Music, Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, Lutheran Music Program).

We are all so blessed to be a part of such a crowd of living witnesses—sharing joys, dividing sorrows, constantly encouraging one another and serving God’s people in their song of faith!

Requiem aeternam, Carl Flentge Schalk…

Barry Bobb
Center for Church Music

Carl Flentge Schalk

September 26, 1929 – January 24, 2021

Composer, conductor, author, hymnologist, teacher

On January 24th the church and all who care about church music lost one if its richest treasures. It has been my privilege to know Carl Schalk first through his music, then as my teacher, and for the last 36 years, as a fellow faculty member. Richard Hillert, his friend and Concordia colleague once light-heartedly referred to him as “Mr. Church Music.” But in many ways, the title fit perfectly, because Carl made immeasurable contributions to the practice and our understanding of church music.

As a composer, Carl had a unique gift: to write well-crafted music that was never unnecessarily complicated nor overreaching for a splashy effect. He had a wide-ranging knowledge of poetry, and an unerring ear for a beautiful text that needed to be set to music. Most of his tunes, like “Now the Silence and “Thine the Amen” seem to sing themselves. His choral anthems have been sung by tens of thousands and will have a permanent place in the repertoire.

Carl’s hymnological research explored the riches of the Lutheran tradition, especially the Lutheran chorale. As a writer, he offered ideas firmly grounded in liturgical principles and constantly challenged musicians and the clergy to re-evaluate their own congregational practices in the light of long-standing Lutheran principles. The fundamental principle that he wanted to convey was that the music of the church has, as its primary role, the proclamation of the Word.

Carl’s vision was neither parochial nor local. Early on, he welcomed the insights of those in other denominations, without compromising those of his own. Lectures in Church Music, which he founded and led for twenty-nine years and the journal Church Music frequently included leaders in other liturgical traditions. While he enjoyed a fairly rich practice of music in his immediate circle (Concordia University and Grace Lutheran Church), he promoted the principles of liturgical music and an expanded role of the church musician for the church and all congregations large and small through his writings, presentations, and brief reflections like those in his publication First Person Singular

Carl was at no loss for ideas and projects to be done. Throughout his career, he encouraged this Concordia colleague and many others with creative ideas for a recital, a presentation, a research project. Even in his last few years he still had ideas for projects that he wanted to complete. A few examples: a choral setting of evening prayer; the Orkney Psalms, settings of poems by Jill Peláez Baumgartner, based upon his travel to those islands; authoring two monographs on liturgy and the Lutheran cantor; a new, forthcoming, choral work, “The First Noël,” dedicated to the memory of his dear wife Noël, who died in 2016.

Carl loved people. He always had a clever word and a great gift for making people feel at home around him. Sometimes his quick wit was rather “pointed,” but that was part of his charm. Like his tunes, Carl’s personality was infectious, and people who had just met him often felt as if they had known him for a very long time. He was an excellent presenter, and as a true Lutheran teacher, never missed an opportunity to share his love of church music.

Those of us who knew him personally will miss him. The church will miss him.  But Carl is very much with us in his writings, his chorale works, and his hymn tunes. He was fond of citing Martin Luther’s comment that when we sing, it is not “thus sings Ambrose, Gregory, Pruduntius…, but thus sings the Christian church.”  Because of the legacy left to us by Carl Schalk, the Lord’s dedicated and life-long servant, the song of the Church, the song that we share, will be ever richer.

Rest eternal grant him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine on him.

Steven Wente
Cantor, First Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL
Distinguished Professor of Music (retired), Concordia University Chicago

  • Nancy M. Raabe Carl F. Schalk: A Life in Song (2013, CPH)
  • Carlos R. Messerli, ed. Thine the Amen: Essays on Lutheran Church Music (in honor of Carl) (2005, Lutheran University Press)
  • Carl Schalk, Singing the Church’s Song: Essays & Occasional Writings on Church Music (2015, Lutheran University Press)
  • Carl Schalk, Singing the Faith: A Short Introduction to Christian Hymnody (2020, MorningStar Music)
  • Carl Schalk, A Small Catechism: Understanding Church Music in the Lutheran Tradition (2017, Lutheran University Press)
  • Carl Schalk & Paul Westermeyer, A Large Catechism: Understanding Church Music in the Lutheran Tradition (2017, Lutheran University Press)

*All available from the publisher or on Amazon