Kyle Pederson
Kyle Pederson

Kyle Pederson, a Minneapolis-based composer, is serving as Wartburg College’s guest composer for 2020.

It was the up-and-coming composer’s setting of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, which included an electric guitar, that first caught the attention of Dr. Lee Nelson, Wartburg’s Patricia R. Zahn Endowed Chair in Choral Conducting and Wartburg Choir director. Pederson attended one of the choir’s Minnesota concerts last spring and heard his song performed live for the first time.

“I was blown away by how they brought the piece to life,” Pederson said. Knowing he had more songs waiting for a debut, he reached out to Nelson to see if the choir would be interested in additional pieces. Nelson and Pederson met this summer on the Wartburg campus to see if they could agree on a song.

“We spent some time in Orchestra Hall with Kyle at the piano playing some of these pieces. As he was going through the list, I was like, ‘That’s a great piece. Well, that’s a great piece, too,’” Nelson said. “I just didn’t know how I was going to choose. When he threw out the idea of being a guest composer, I knew we had our answer.”

Hugh Brown ’21, a music education major from Iowa City, has enjoyed working with Pederson in rehearsals but is especially excited for the opportunity this partnership has afforded him to grow as a composer in his own right. Brown is working with Pederson to bring his first composition, Prayer of the Lost, to the stage.

Written for a four-part men’s choir, like the college’s Ritterchor, the piece was inspired by Brown’s life growing up and the biblical story of the Prodigal Son. He started writing the piece during May Term, but kicked his work into overdrive when he learned Pederson had offered to mentor young composers on campus.

“It’s great to have that outside perspective. I am always around Dr. Nelson and Dr. (Karen) Black and all the music faculty. I’m always able to get their opinions,” he said. “But to have a prominent composer review your work and help you understand how to make it better is an invaluable opportunity.”

Pederson’s first piece as guest composer was the premiere of an all-male version of Since I Laid My Burden Down mashed with The Battle Hymn of the Republic. He also worked with Charles Anthony Silvestri, the guest poet for Wartburg’s Meistersinger Honor Choir, on a piece that honored Martin Luther King Jr. for that festival’s finale concert. The Wartburg Choir will premiere a new setting of Soon I Will Be Done mixed with spoken word during the ensemble’s international tour this May. Pederson also is seeking opportunities to arrange pieces for other Wartburg ensembles.

Like Brown, Nelson also is excited for the opportunities Wartburg’s budding composers will have to be mentored by someone currently living their dream.

“Any time we can show our students that a living, breathing person is doing this thing that they want to do, it is an opportunity we have to take,” Nelson said. “Kyle is a father. He was a middle and high school social studies teacher. He owned his own company after that. And then he decided that music was his passion, his calling, and that story for our students has been very powerful.”


The author delves into these ideas and more in Building Bridges: Engaging Students at Risk Through the Power of Relationships:

Have a “relationship-building mindset.”
You are going to encounter some tough kids. It’s not going to be easy, but you can be successful. You have to have the mindset that you are going to commit to it and do whatever it takes to be successful. Find solutions to problems. Have the mindset that this is a challenge I am facing, and I am going to overcome it.

Get to the root of the problem. Most times, the behavior that is on the surface is because of a lot of underlying issues. A lot of these students have ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) or problems at home. We have to treat the real problem and not just the symptoms. The way we do that is by connecting with the student, developing trust, and opening lines of communication. We have to break down the wall and engage students.

Build the student’s self-esteem. This will help academically and behaviorally. Give them positive messages. Speak positive affirmations to them, and let them know that they can do it and you are in their corner. Academically give them tasks they can accomplish. Use the constructivist approach in education. Give them a more challenging task, help them accomplish that, and reward the effort with continued praise and affirmation for their hard work. Celebrate and build on each small success until the students believe in themselves.

Parker’s book is available at