Dr. Jeffrey Blersch revisits "Alleluia! Sing to Jesus" for 125th anniversary concert

Published by Concordia University, Nebraska 4 years ago on Wed, Jan 23, 2019 11:42 AM
Dr. Jeffery Blersch's "Alleluia! Sing to Jesus," will be performed during the Celebration at the Lied on March 23.

Audience members attending the Celebration at the Lied 125th anniversary concert will get to hear one of Dr. Jeffrey Blersch’s pieces for the first time. The performance will also mark the first time in nearly a decade that Blersch gets to hear it performed live.

It’s been 12 years since Blersch, a professor of music at Concordia, was commissioned by the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) to compose “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus,” for the 2007 National Youth Gathering. The March 23 performance will be the first time Blersch will hear it performed in nearly a decade.

“I think it will be great to revisit this piece,” Blersch said. “I haven’t heard it in a while, and haven’t thought about it in a while, it’ll be exciting to hear it come together.”

When Blersch was commissioned by the LCMS to write the piece, based on a hymn tune of the same title, one of the requirements was that it would involve several hundred voices and a large wind symphony. Unlike many of his pieces, it was not designed to be used in an average church service. Blersch has more than 200 compositions and collections published with Concordia Publishing House and four of his original hymn tunes are included in the Lutheran Service Book.

Three of Concordia’s choirs (Cantamus Women’s Choir, the Male Chorus and University A Capella Choir) will sing the piece accompanied by the symphonic band. With that many performers involved, the only time everyone will be in the same room practicing together will be the few hours leading up to the concert.

“Having our groups performing together, that’s what I’m most excited about,” Blersch said. “That’s why I love Christmas at Concordia, usually that’s the one event each year where we have a lot of different groups performing together, which to me is a terrific experience.”

It’s not uncommon to have musical groups practice separately and then bring everyone together right before a performance, Blersch said, but it does require clear communication between each conductor in case adjustments are needed. With four conductors for this particular piece—Blersch, along with Paul Soulek and fellow professors Dr. Kurt von Kampen and Dr. Andrew Schultz —there has to be a group consensus, similar to how Christmas at Concordia performances are developed.

“We will have to agree on things such as tempo changes, dynamic variances and articulations to make sure all conductors are teaching the piece in the same way,” he said.  “We know each other’s styles and we’ve worked together long enough to know that we’re a good team.”

While some composers re-write their works sometimes four or five times, Blersch said he’s still happy 12 years later with how “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus,” was put together.

“I was happy about it then and I still am,” he said. “My only regret about the piece is it has very little practical applications for performances because it requires such a large group of people to perform it. It’s not one of those pieces you can just pick up, unless you have the right forces to do it.”

Whether Blersch is composing a piece for a large group performance at the National Youth Gathering or for a church service, his process remains mostly the same. People sometimes think a magic wand gets waved and instantly inspires the composer, Blersch said, but that’s not the case. The more one learns to write, the better they get at it.

“It’s work trying things and trying to decide which are good ideas and which are bad ideas,” he said. “Hopefully at the end you come up with a product you like, just like any kind of a novel one might write, and you probably like some better than others.”

No matter which of his pieces are being performed, it’s always special to hear the music, Blersch said.

“It’s really exciting, to be able to hear what it sounds like live and compare it to the way you had it in your head,” he said. “It’s really that way with other pieces I’ve written, and heard performed by other groups. It’s very gratifying to be able to hear the music.”

The combined group will also perform a hymn written by von Kampen for Concordia’s 125th anniversary based on a text from Lisa Clark, a Concordia Publishing House author, with Blersch playing the piano and von Kampen playing guitar, alongside various instruments.