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Making Music for God

Paul Manz has spent a lifetime providing inspiration from the organ keyboard.

His ancestors were German Russians with the difficult-to-pronounce last name “Maliszewski.” His father worked for a steel company in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents were devout Lutherans, as he has always been.
Paul Manz is a child of the church and, through his music, has been its servant and its teacher. In his 87 years he has written large upon the musical canvas of Lutheran Christianity.
Many who rise to the heights of fame and accomplishment declare, whether in words or by behavior, “It’s all about me.” With profound Lutheran insight, reflecting on his long and productive life as a music teacher, scholar, composer, performer and church musician — through a career that has brought him great acclaim — Paul Manz says, “It’s all about grace” (see section following this story).
How did the son of an office worker become one of America’s premier keyboard artists? Says Manz, “I knew since sixth grade I’d become an organist. For me, that meant music in the church.”
He says his mother, Hulda, “prayed me into it.” He attended a Lutheran elementary school where, around grade 8, he remembers being “set on fire” by Henry Markworth, a Lutheran music teacher.
“I wanted to study organ, but he told me I had to study piano first. So we agreed, I’d get one organ lesson for every two piano lessons I took.”
A defining moment came when Manz was nine years old. “Walter Holtkamp’s pipe organ factory was near my parents’ home in our very German neighborhood. One day I went over there and pressed my nose to the window. I wanted to see how they put pipe organs together. Mr. Holtkamp, an extremely gruff gentleman, suddenly appeared at the door and demanded what I was doing there.”
After some stammering, the youngster was invited inside where, grudgingly, the owner showed him a new instrument ready to ship. He said, “I’ll see if we can find someone to play it for you.” Nine-year-old Paul Manz, who admits he was driven by youthful arrogance, replied, “Oh, that won’t be necessary. I can play it myself.”
And play it he did. The employees stopped building and tuning and crating organs and listened with admiration, then gave him a round of applause. Chagrined, Walter Holtkamp appeared impressed as well.
[The Holtkamp organ company designed the instruments for the church on the campus of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota; for Luther Sem-inary; for Concordia Seminary, St. Louis; and for Valparaiso University. In recent years, during a visit to Minnesota, Walter Holtkamp paid Manz a visit and they remembered, this time fondly, the “nine-year-old-prodigy-organist” incident.]
Paul Manz’ long service to the church has included minister of music (and education) for Mount Olive Lutheran Church, south Minneapolis, where he held forth on the organ bench for 37 years; a teacher of music (19 years) at Concordia College (now University), St. Paul, Minnesota; artist in residence at Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago (9 years); and director, for five years, of the Paul Manz Institute of Church Music.
While at Mount Olive, he developed what has become the enormously popular hymn festival format. “It started when I played a recital there,” he remembers, “and decided we should begin with a hymn. I could tell everybody was loving the opportunity to sing, so the next time I had a recital, I let them sing more. It just developed from there.”
The recitals and hymn festivals brought national and international acclaim. His renown grew to such an extent that, his wife Ruth remembers, young organists were evidently intimidated by him.
“We were at a music event on the East Coast,” she recalls, chuckling. “The printed program had ‘Ten Commandments for Church Organists.’ Number Four read, ‘If thou art on the organ bench and thou noticeth Paul Manz in the congregation, thou shalt not faint!’”
How does this seasoned church musician see the future of worship music in the Lutheran Church? “Things go in cycles. If the church forgets its musical heritage, it will be temporary. We’ll return to it. And that goes for the pipe organ. Churches are still waiting in line to buy them.”
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“Thank you for letting me play with you”
Dr. Paul Manz was awarded Metro Lutheran’s Gold Pen Award for exceptional service as a church communicator at the paper’s annual Dinner on October 16. At the request of many who were present, and appreciated the tone and content of what he said in his acceptance speech, his remarks are reprinted here.
* *
Thank you for the honor you have bestowed on me — an honor which, I know, is not for my words. That music and musicians are held in high regard says something powerful about the heart of God.
I must tell you at the outset, it is difficult to address you from this end of the hall. [laughter] I would prefer the organ bench, where I can speak more freely. But, if you will indulge me, allow me to share one thing I have learned from more than seven decades on the organ bench.
It is all about grace, which really means this is not very much about me.
My paternal grandfather, Johann Christian Maliszewski [so, you can see, why I chose the simpler “Manz”] was a Cantor in Nowawiescz, Rus-sia. I cannot take credit for the genes which found their way into my body — and richly, I might add, into a cousin I never knew (also named Paul, born the same month and year as I. He had been a star student of Heinrich Fleischer in the Hochschule fur Muzik in Leipzig, Germany, and, along with him, was conscripted into the German Army in World War II. Heinrich lived to come to America and taught at the University of Minnesota. Paul was killed on the Western Front.
Very simply, much has been given to me. My parents skimped and saved so I could have an education. My mother, Hulda, even sold Sunshine Greeting Cards so that I could have organ lessons. My father, Otto, was an office worker for a large steel company in Cleveland, Ohio. I am their only child. If I can’t take credit for the nurture I received, neither can I take credit for any of the amazing intersections which have given occasion for my music and shaped my vocation.
Much has been given me by teachers who have worked me hard in the disciplines of the Art. Much has been given me by students who, in discovering the joy of making music, have made my work so worthwhile, and in the teaching have taught me so much.
Much has been given me by congregations who have taken music and this musician into their hearts. They have even called me, if you can imagine that, to be a caring, healing messenger of Gospel and Song during a time of cruel chaos in the Lutheran family. Choirs, both children and adult, who have endured endless hours of rehearsal, have given me much. Organ stops are one thing, but the people of the choirs have also been leaders of song with their voices. Friends for whose encouragement and support I will forever be grateful have given me much.
And my wife, who in truth has made the real music in my life, now for 62 years, has given me much. Without Ruth, I would not have applied for a Fulbright Scholarship in the mid-1950s, to study with Flor Peeters in Mechelen, Belgium, and Hel-mut Walcha in Frankfurt, Germany. As a wise friend observed, without her I would probably be playing in a piano bar somewhere.
Ruth has been the Cantus Firmus in our home and for our children, whom I treasure, while I practiced and taught and played and wrote.
It is a high and holy honor to stand in the rich tradition of Lutheran organists — Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Bach and countless other Old Masters. These, along with so many bright names of the present, have made the story of salvation singable. Isn’t it a marvel? Music has a way of reaching the mind and heart far deeper, far more richly, than these poor words ever will. Music gives wings to words. So, you see, it is all about Grace.
Thank you for the grace of singing with me across the years in good times and in bad, when our words have stuck in our throats and when our eyes have overflowed with joy. It has ever been a Song of Grace: “Love to the loveless shown that we might lovely be.”
Thank you for letting me play with you.
— Paul Otto Manz