Get to Know the Kantorei of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne
Many of you have responded enthusiastically to the news that Concordia Publishing House has released a recording of the daily orders of prayer that Lutherans have used historically, and many have already commented on how marvelous the singing is, wondering just who this “Kantorei” group is. I’ve heard from quite a few of you who all are asking, “Who are those guys?”
Here’s a great article from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette about the Kantorei. In my opinion, the Kantorei has remained, consistently, the finest men’s Lutheran choir in the USA, and holds its own against any group internationally. This is due in very large measure to the excellent work of its founder and conductor, Rev. Kantor Richard Resch, who would be quick to give all glory to God and praise the seminary students who each year volunteer their time to this wonderful group. If you are interested in purchasing recordings by the Kantorei you can find them in our Concordia Publishing House bookstore on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, or purchase them directly from our CPH web site.
Kantorei, the all-male choir of Concordia Theological Seminary, performs during a worship service in Kramer Chapel on campus in Fort Wayne.
Quick – can you name an all-male choir from Fort Wayne that sings sacred music, mostly a cappella?
Well, the question might not flummox elite choral music aficionados in these parts. But it might well furrow brows from many familiar with northeast Indiana’s music scene, says Richard Resch, director of Concordia Theological Seminary’s 16-member Kantorei.
Kantorei is a choral group made up of pastors-to-be studying at the Fort Wayne seminary of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. But the ensemble remains one of the area’s better-kept musical secrets, Resch acknowledges.
That’s even though the group is more than 30 years old, has six recordings and has developed a national reputation.
Kantorei’s local profile is low, Resch says, partly because the group sings locally at only a few public events each year – notably at Easter and Epiphany vespers services in Kramer Chapel on the seminary campus at 6600 N. Clinton St.
And the group doesn’t give concerts even when it sings, Resch says. Instead, it performs only at worship services.
“Because we’re a seminary, we do things a little differently,” says Resch, who founded Kantorei in 1978. Its audition-only membership rotates as students complete seminary residency requirements.
The reputation the group has gained, Resch adds, comes largely from its role in promoting the seminary.
Twice a year, Kantorei goes on tours that take the singers to Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod churches both in the Michiana-Ohio region and throughout the United States and Canada. This week, for example, members are singing in nine churches mostly in central Florida.
Kantorei’s Fort Wayne performance will be at an Epiphany Lessons and Carols service in Kramer Chapel at 4 p.m. Jan. 17.
Resch says Kantorei started “with my desire to take a bit of the seminary to the church at large,” with the aim of drawing candidates and financial and spiritual support. He estimates hundreds of congregations have heard the group, and listeners have become avid consumers of the group’s CDs. Kantorei has become self-supporting and occasionally income-producing, even though there is no admission charge for services at which it performs, he says.
The choir also has given Resch, a seminary associate professor of pastoral theology, a chance to work intensively with committed singers to develop what he calls “refinement” of their sound. Singers rehearse three times a week – at 7 a.m. – and there’s no being late, missing practice or dropping out, Resch says.
By the time the men sing locally at the end of their tours, the pieces “are in really good shape, musically” he says, “and they’re not likely to be done (anywhere) very much better.”
Kantorei performances highlight the rich tradition of choral music in Lutheran worship, Resch says.
“Lutherans really care about choral music,” he explains, noting that the faith’s 16th-century founder, Martin Luther, was not only a theologian but also a musician who wrote many hymns, played the flute and was known to have been a good enough singer to be paid occasionally.
“We actually believe choral music is part of preaching. It’s proclamation (of the word of God). It’s not an add-on. It’s not fluff on the way to important stuff. It is important stuff,” Resch says, noting the group also performed secular music for secular audiences for a time but stopped because it was difficult to maintain focus on both.
Services at which Kantorei performs include Scripture, a brief homily and congregational singing. Music by the singers serves as prayer and reflections on the meaning of the season in which the music is performed, Resch says.
Music, however, is selected in much the same way as for a traditional classical music concert. Resch says he selects pieces to illustrate various periods and styles. When Kantorei performs Jan. 17, the repertoire includes works from Baroque, Romantic and modern.
“We’re going back to some carols by Michael Praetorius, and he was a Lutheran church musician writing around 1600, so that’s the oldest music we’ll do,” Resch says.
“The most beautiful thing we’re doing is by a new composer, Morten Lauridsen, ‘Oh Magnum Mysterium.’ We’re doing it in Latin, and it might be the piece most treasured by choral directors written in the last 20 years.”
In between come works by J.S. Bach and Camille Saint-Saens and some works commissioned by Kantorei.
Those pieces are “O Light Whose Splendor” by Henry V. Gerike, Resch’s counterpart at the Missouri Synod’s seminary in St. Louis, and “Guard Us Waking” by Kantorei’s Associate Cantor Kevin Hildebrand.
Over the years, Kantorei has commissioned about 60 pieces from composers including Robert Hobby, music director at Trinity English Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne; Fort Wayne native David Schack, a retired composer who now lives in Omaha, Neb.; and the late John Bender, an internationally known choral composer from Germany who taught at Wittenberg University in Ohio.
Resch started commissioning because he was frustrated that few pieces were being written for men’s choirs, which, while not rare, are not common either. Most available pieces were for mixed voices, and the few for men tended to be formulaic.
“Schmaltzy,” Resch says.
“There’s more (music for men’s choirs) out there now, and there’s more quality stuff, but there could be a whole lot more,” he says.
The group promotes the cause by publishing its commissioned works as the Kantorei Series. The publisher is the Missouri Synod’s Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis.
The ensemble’s CDs are available at the seminary’s bookstore on campus.
Doug Peters, a 40-year-old baritone, says he was a fan before he became a member as a second-career pastoral candidate.
His pastor had a CD, and when Peters listened to it, he says, “I thought they sounded wonderful.” Even though he hadn’t sung since high school, “I thought I’d try out, and I made it, and this is my second year.”
He calls being part of the group “a real blessing.”
“Obviously, the hymns we sing only enrich our theology and our knowledge of what we believe and can bring to the church,” he says, calling “anything by Bach” his favorite thing to sing.
“I really enjoy this group because I am surrounded by such wonderfully gifted men. … They are the true sound. I’m just filler,” he says.
Resch says he feels blessed by the acoustics of Kramer, which, with its angular, hard-surfaced modern design, “allows the sound to bounce around and kind of come together.”
The chapel “is a joy to make music in,” he says. “Everybody who comes into the room and plays there for the first time likes how their instruments sound or how they sound as a singer.”
And with an all-male choir group, there is a unique sound to enjoy, Resch adds.
“There is a richness, a kind of a depth to it that no other (kind of) choir has,” he says. “It’s a rich sound, and a smooth sound, and when they’re all out, it’s kind of like velvet. Liquid velvet.”