Renata Peperkorn ’23 earns national scholar award
Renata Peperkorn, a junior from Rocklin, California, was recently named the first Norma Aamodt-Nelson Scholar by the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians (ALCM).
Peperkorn, a church music and music education double major, earned the honor after submitting video recordings of her playing three organ pieces, along with an explanation of how the pieces might be used in the Divine Service. The competition, open to any undergraduate student, included 12 additional entrants, with runners-up studying at institutions like Luther College, the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, Western University and St. Olaf College.
“I feel both surprised and honored to have received the award,” Peperkorn says. “I was not expecting it because it was a national scholarship contest, which makes me all the more honored to have received it.”
Dr. Jeffrey Blersch, Concordia professor of music, says the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians fulfills its purpose of resourcing and equipping musicians in Lutheran congregations is to help encourage future generations of musicians in their study of church music. The award’s namesake, Norma Aadmodt-Nelson, was a lifelong church musician and music editor at Augsburg Fortress Publishing before she died in 2020.
“The fact that our own Renata was chosen as the winner not only bears testimony to Renata’s exceptional musicianship, but also demonstrates the talent and work ethic of our music students at Concordia University, Nebraska,” Blersch says. “Renata is an exceptional student and an exceptional musician who loves learning and is always eager to soak up new information and learn new skills and techniques. She has certainly been blessed by God with these gifts, but she also has an exceptional work ethic and her diligent and careful work have helped her advance quickly.”
In her application, Peperkorn played three pieces she learned from organ lessons with Blersch, two of which she performed previously at student recitals on campus. She performed “Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland,” or “Savior of the Nations Come”, by J.S. Bach, “The Peace May Be Exchanged” by Dan Locklair and “O Morning Star (Setting 1)” by Paul Manz.
“Bach is a standard in church music and that hymn tune is specifically associated with the first Sunday of Advent, which made it a good fit for the application,” she says. “Locklair’s ‘The Peace May Be Exchanged’ is a calm meditative piece that contrasts with the tense Bach piece and in the church service it would work well as an offering. The final piece by Manz is a festive setting of the Epiphany hymn that I chose because it is a good closure and goes with the first Sunday of Epiphany.”
Peperkorn says Blersch taught her how to express the three pieces to their best potential.
“Without him, none of this would have been possible,” she says. “He not only has a wealth of organ information, but he is able to communicate it because he is also a good teacher. Dr. Joseph Herl encouraged all of our church music students to apply for this scholarship and it was only through him that I found out about it and decided to apply.”
Music has always been a big part of Peperkorn’s family—her mother is a music teacher and both of her parents were in the A Cappella Choir. At the end of grade school, Peperkorn realized music would be her vocation.
“Beyond just liking music, I began to see how important music is in school and in the church community,” she says. “I started to specifically think about church music after attending the Higher Things Youth Conferences. My favorite part of those conferences was the church services, and I started to think about how I would want to use music to teach the Word of God and give people a glimpse of heaven.”
Learning from Blersch and Herl, who are experts in their field and experts at teaching, is one of the many highlights of Concordia’s church music program, Peperkorn says. In the program, students learn the skills they’ll need for their vocation and life.
“The program provides plenty of opportunities to get professional experience before we graduate,” she says. “We can play for chapel, evening prayer and find jobs in the community. These opportunities equip us with the practical skills of a church musician and the theoretical knowledge to lead worship in a way that points to Christ and our future life in heaven.”