In Memoriam: Carl Schalk

By Steven Wente

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 of 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 the title fits 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. He constantly challenged musicians and the clergy to re-evaluate their congregational practices in light of the long-standing tenets. The fundamental principle that he wanted to convey was that the church's music 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 relatively rich music practice 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. Large and small congregations 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, and a research project. Even in his last few years, he still had ideas for projects he wanted to complete. Here are 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 they had known him for a long time. As a true Lutheran teacher, he was an excellent presenter and 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, chorale works, and 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.   

Reprinted with permission from the website of the Center for Church Music. 

Steven Wente

Steven Wente is Cantor at First Saint Paul's Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL and Distinguished Professor of Music (retired) at Concordia University Chicago.


A Sunburst of Glory

By Mary Louise Bringle

Rewarded with Holy Grace

Tune By McKee

Lyrics & Arr. Reverend Cliff Aerie

Trenny Responses

By Tom Trenney

Finlandia - Hymnbook

By Jean Sibelius

Finlandia  - Piano

By Jean Sibelius

Arr. WWL

Finlandia - Organ

By Jean Sibelius

Arr. WLW


This Celtic wheel cross is a form of Christian cross that emerged in Ireland, France and Great Britain in the Early Middle Ages. It became widespread through its use in the stone high crosses erected across the islands, especially in regions evangelized by Irish missionaries.

This cross is not to be confused with a variation that was appropriated for use as a symbol of white supremacy. The symbol is vastly used by non-extremists in contexts such as Christianity, neo-Paganism, and Irish patriotism.

Back to top

Worship, Music & Ministry is a publication of the United Church of Christ Musicians Association, Inc. and is issued three times a year. The journal is distributed to members of UCCMA as a benefit of membership.

All correspondence concerning membership in UCCMA, changes of address and other inquiries should be addressed to the United Church of Christ Musicians Association, P.O. Box 370631, West Hartford, CT  06137.

Information about the United Church of Christ Musicians Association is available at

Copyright © 2023 by the United Church of Christ Musicians Association, Inc.


Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software