The first Lincoln Lutheran Choir performance brought together 70 singers from 18 Lutheran congregations to sing with one voice at Sheridan Lutheran Church. This was important to Carlos Messerli, a longtime musicology professor at Seward’s Concordia Teachers College, who founded the choir in 1978 shortly after resigning from his post at the school.
“Just because of my enthusiasm for joint church work and for choirs, I organized a pan-Lutheran choir in the city of Lincoln, Nebraska,” Messerli said in a Concordia University Chicago video interview two years ago. “It got a very good turnout, and we recognized in the second year that Luther had an anniversary, and we capitalized on that. And we presented the program in Lutheran churches and even in the Roman Catholic cathedral. Some of us had never worshiped in or been in a Roman Catholic cathedral for that kind of experience before. We kept that fire going all of the time I was in Lincoln -- that was another block of 20 years and the choir is still in existence performing that kind of pan-Lutheran service and giving church choir singers a chance to do some things that (they) may not have in their available in their local church libraries."
On Sunday, the choir that will next year celebrate its 40th anniversary will honor its founder. He died earlier this month in Illinois, where he and his wife, Susan, retired. He was 90.
Though its first concert took place at the Sheridan Lutheran Church, the Lincoln Lutheran Choir’s most frequent home has been the concert hall at Grace Lutheran Church, 2225 Washington St., which is where Sunday's performance will take place. The 3 p.m. concert is open to the public, with donations accepted.
The choir, conducted by Brett Epperson and featuring soloists, chamber music and organist David Schack, will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s chorale cantata BWV, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
Messerli was a student of the extensive history of the church’s musical tradition, said Sandie Anderson, a longtime soprano with the choir.
In the video interview, Messerli praises the variety of “some of the finest music of the 16th, 17th, 18th century” produced in concert with Lutheran teachings, hymnals that he went on to perform as a concert pianist and lead hundreds, if not thousands, more in performing both at the Lincoln Lutheran Choir as well as at the Lutheran Summer Music program, which he founded in 1981. Now known as the Lutheran Music Program, it continues to bring high school-age musicians together at college campuses each summer for an immersive experience.
“It was a surprise to me and somewhat satisfying that whatever goal that the church musician or the teacher set, the students may not always be able to reach it, but they will certainly reach higher than if you didn’t have … the goal of the greater degree of perfection,” Messerli said in the video interview. “So we did things which were beyond the level of the students. We sang ‘Jesu, meine Freude’ in high school and did the entire motet, and I don’t think I ever should have done that. But the students had an experience that they wouldn’t have had otherwise and they enjoyed it, or seemed to enjoy it immensely.”
Anderson worked alongside Messerli in the early ‘80s as he led the Lincoln Lutheran Choir and founded the summer music program. She shared an office with him, and helped him complete the feasibility study. He never tired of the work associated with either, she said.
“He was passionate about music, but he was also passionate about the Lutheran church,” Anderson said. “He was amazing, absolutely tireless. Just amazing. And we’d work until dark and he’d (get) on his bicycle and bicycle home and probably fix dinner.”
They began working together soon after Messerli left Concordia in Seward in 1978. He resigned after a hymnal he’d spent years helping the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship create was rejected at a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod convention as being doctrinally questionable.
“So the work I was engaged in for 12 years is under suspicion,” Messerli told the Lincoln Journal in 1978, adding that “the primary reason for rejection (of the hymnal) was an unwillingness to fellowship with other Lutherans.”
With the Lincoln Lutheran Choir, he found a way to bring performers from many congregations, both amateur and professional, together. For decades, members have rehearsed at Grace Lutheran Church in advance of the choir’s two annual concerts.
“It’s just amazing,” Anderson said. “The acoustics are wonderful. You sing a note, and it just floats up there.”
On Sunday, a tribute to Messerli will be included in the program handed out to those who attend the performance. And Anderson said that next year, the choir’s 40th anniversary, will likely be dedicated to him and feature reunions with past performers.