The Lutheran Choral Tradition

The Wartburg Choir performing F. Melius Christiansen's "Wake, Awake."

The AMERICAN LUTHERAN CHOIR TRADITION is deeply tied to the central role of choral performance in educational institutions of the Midwest, a region often described as the “choral belt.” F. Melius Christiansen (1871-1955), founder of the St. Olaf Choir and mentor to Dr. Edwin Liemohn, founder of the Wartburg Choir, was seminal in shaping the aesthetic of the Lutheran choral sound in the early 20th century. By basing the sound of the choir on the sonority of the string quartet, he created a highly unified ensemble known for its tuning, technical abilities, and musical discipline.

Preferring an unaccompanied performance style, Christiansen ensured that the choir would never be limited by the resources of each performance venue. Thus, he was able to extend the performance outreach of his ensemble to any congregation. The latter defined another key aspect of the Lutheran choir tradition through the emphasis on the touring ensemble. Directors of the choir stress the continuing importance of the tradition, explaining that the Wartburg Choir’s central goal is to sing the music historically and pedagogically as appropriately as possible while still honoring the legacy of the tradition.

Dr. Lee Nelson talks about the Lutheran Choral Tradition and how Wartburg conductors have helped shape its evolution.