To God be the glory: Remembering A Cappella's Beloved "Dad Martens"
Edmund Rudolf Martens had a matchless impact on the Concordia University, Nebraska A Cappella Choir, the music department as a whole, and the university overall. Both an outstanding choir director and beloved professor, he was also known as a nurturing mentor, loving husband, and caring friend. Director of the A Cappella Choir for 21 years, he took hundreds of students on eight tours of Europe and countless stateside tours. He fondly referred to his choristers as “pelicans,” and they affectionately called him “Dad Martens.”
“While I was a member of the A Cappella Choir (1980-83), Professor Martens gave me the opportunity to conduct the group on tour. I think it was that moment when I developed a secret hope that one day, I could be the conductor of the choir. I am grateful for the confidence he showed in me at that time and for the spiritual and musical leadership he provided for the choir for more than 20 years,” said Dr. Kurt von Kampen, Concordia Nebraska professor of music, music department chair and current director of the A Cappella Choir. Von Kampen is the fourth conductor in the 86-year history of the A Cappella Choir.
Martens was born in 1928 in Buhl, Idaho. He passed away on October 27, 2022, in Lincoln at the age of 93. He attended Clover Lutheran School and Buhl High School in Idaho and later graduated from Concordia Academy in Portland, Oregon. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from then-named Concordia College in Seward in 1949. He taught and was later named principal at Immanuel Lutheran School in Columbus, Nebraska from 1949 to 1951. He moved to Orange, California in 1951, where he taught fifth grade and served as the director of music at St. John’s Lutheran Church until 1966. There he met his bride, Ruth Marie Schnackenberg, and they were married on August 5, 1956, at St. John’s Lutheran Church.
He earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Southern California in 1961 and accepted a call to Concordia College, Seward, where he taught music theory, organ, voice, conducting, and choral music. He and his wife were known for baking brötchen (little bread) every Saturday for students, co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family.
After 49 years of ministry, Martens spent his retirement teaching English as a second language, often enhancing curriculum with the hymnal, catechism, and church services for his students, ensuring that they heard the Word while learning words. Former A Cappella Choir members remember Martens fondly, recalling how he encouraged choristers to memorize songs for performance so that text and melodies would be committed to memory for a lifetime.
“I remember him sharing the meaning of a phrase from a Bach motet: the Spirit also helps us, interceding for us with sighs and groans too deep for words,” said Pam (Menge) Langewisch CO '82 GR '88. “Many times throughout the 41 years since Dad shared that with us, the Spirit has brought it to mind at times of sorrow and helplessness. I am grateful for his sharing Christ not only with our audiences, but daily with us, his choir.”
Another choir member recalled him telling the group “memorizing is not for the audience, it is for you! When you need them most in life, the Holy Spirit will bring you exactly what you need by melody and text, to give you hope and restore your faith…that is why you memorize!” Many also recall Martens instructing them to allow the Biblical texts and music to light their eyes, cheeks and lips during each rehearsal and performance.
Martens frequently reminded the choir that the group’s performances were to glorify God and were for the benefit of listening audiences. Martens built a choral family that shared the Gospel not only through music presented to audiences but also through their choir member interactions with each other.
"I will be forever grateful for how this man and the A Cappella Choir shaped my life and gave me the family I treasure every day. To God be the glory," said Liz (Greenthaner) Schultz CO '83 GR '02.