Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Yes, you can sing

Gold Pen winner is Luther Seminary’s cantor, Paul Westermeyer

You can’t sing? Dr. Paul Westermeyer disagrees. “Everyone,” he says, “is
welcome to the song.”

The sacred music professor, cantor at Luther Seminary, and author of several
books about church music will receive the Gold Pen award at Metro
Lutheran’s annual dinner on October 4, 2009, at Roseville Lutheran Church in
Roseville, Minnesota.

When you sing in church, after all, you’re not alone. The award, says
Westermeyer, “reminds me of the communal nature of what one does.”
In church music, it’s all about community. That goes as well for the Gold Pen,
which honors writing. Westermeyer finds his roots “especially in the schools
who have taught me to write,” starting with Hughes High School in Cincinnati
and the school newspaper.

Westermeyer, 69, began working as a church musician in high school —
singing in choirs, playing for worship, conducting, even organizing a choir.
As early as age nine, he felt called as both pastor and musician — “propelled
by questions about church music,” says Westermeyer. Theologians told him
he would get over music. Musicians advised that he would leave theology
behind. “I always felt uneasy about that,” says Westermeyer. He chose both.

He came to Luther Seminary in 1990 to implement and direct its Master of
Sacred Music program, a partnership with St. Olaf College in Northfield,
Minnesota. The program helps church musicians explore theological
foundations of their work as they study music at St. Olaf and theology at
Luther.

Westermeyer is substitute organist and is a member of the choir at
Resurrection Lutheran in Roseville. He has led the 14-member musical group
in Bach cantatas, conducting choir, and orchestra. “We manage to pull it off,”
says choir member Luella Zibell, a Westermeyer fan and Metro Lutheran board
member.

Westermeyer is a doer in and out of music. One Monday the Resurrection
choir abruptly decided to repaint the fellowship hall for an event the following
Saturday. Westermeyer balked. “You’re out of control!” he told them with a
laugh. Then, says Zibell, he “picked up a paint brush to help.”

Westermeyer is a prolific writer as well. His The Church Musician (1998) is
about that daunting vocation. Te Deum (1997) covers church music from the
Old Testament to the present. His current project is a companion to the new
ELCA hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, successor to Marilyn Stulken’s
Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship (1981). The new volume
“discusses every hymn, author, translator, tune, composer, and some
arrangers,” says Westermeyer.

Which hymns should we sing? “Good worship music is music that is fitting,”
says Westermeyer. “The church for 20 centuries has said music is primarily
for the glorification of God and edification of the neighbor.”

He points to Martin Luther’s hymns, in particular “A Mighty Fortress.” J.S.
Bach’s cantata version, “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” for Reformation Sunday,
which calls blessed “those who carry God in their mouth.” The meaning is
double — Word and eucharist. Triple, in fact, because Word in the the cantata
is sung Word. So, Westermeyer would urge us — sing!