Joseph Herl earned a B.A. in music from Concordia College in Bronxville, New York, where he was awarded the college’s prizes in music and classics. He subsequently received a master’s degree in organ performance from North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas), where he studied with Charles S. Brown and Lenora McCroskey, and a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he assisted his advisor, Nicholas Temperley, in producing The Hymn Tune Index: A Census of English-Language Hymn Tunes in Printed Sources from 1535–1820. The Index was published in four volumes in 1998 by Oxford University Press and placed online in 2000. During his time at Illinois Herl spent a year and a half in Germany on a Fulbright dissertation research grant.
In 2000 he arrived at Concordia, where he teaches music history, world music, first-year music theory, liturgy, hymnody, and church music. In 2004 his first book, Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism: Choir, Congregation, and Three Centuries of Conflict, was published by Oxford University Press. It made use of several hundred primary sources to chronicle the unsteady path music and liturgy took as the Lutheran service changed from a choral to a congregational form. In 2005 Worship Wars was awarded the Roland Bainton Prize of the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference.
While working on the book, Herl was also involved in the preparation of Lutheran Service Book (2006), the current hymnal of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. In 2011 he became editor, with Peter C. Reske and Jon D. Vieker, of Lutheran Service Book: Companion to the Hymns, which tells the story behind every hymn in the hymnal. It is the first hymnal companion in English for which the editors consulted the earliest sources of every text, translation, tune, and harmonization, resulting in a large number of changes to attributions given in the printed hymnal. The companion was released by Concordia Publishing House in 2019 in two volumes totaling over 2,600 pages.
Herl’s current research interests include Gregorian chant sung by early Lutherans, the historical roots of the contemporary worship movement, and the role of children in the Lutheran service. He is especially interested in promoting church music that instills the Word of God in the hearts of children and adults so they never forget it or lose it.
Herl is also a composer of music for choir, organ and piano. His music has been published by Concordia Publishing House, Oxford University Press, and MorningStar Music Publishers. His hymn tunes have appeared in several North American and European hymnals; Lutheran Service Book contains three of his original tunes, one hymn translation, a liturgical setting, and twenty-two hymn settings. Around 300 hymn settings, hymn stanzas, and liturgical items remain unpublished.
Herl serves Redeemer Lutheran Church in Lincoln as organist, and he holds the Associateship and Choir Master certifications of the American Guild of Organists. In 2018 he received the annual Outstanding Teaching Award from Concordia University, and in 2020 he was appointed research professor in the University of Illinois School of Music, succeeding Nicholas Temperley as director of the Hymn Tune Index, a position he holds concurrently with his full-time service at Concordia. In 2022 Concordia Seminary in St. Louis awarded him an honorary doctorate.
Joseph Herl lives in Seward with his wife Jenny, who teaches chemistry at Concordia, and their daughters Anna and Mary.
Dr. Joseph Herl's Academic Programs
A degree in music education from Concordia University, Nebraska prepares you to teach vocal and instrumental music to students K-12 in Lutheran, Christian, private or public schools. Some music teachers instruct students in a certain instrument, while others teach general music classes.
A degree in church music from Concordia University, Nebraska prepares you to lead and direct music in both traditional and contemporary worship settings. The degree also leads to rostered status in The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod as a director of parish music for individuals who are members of an LCMS congregation.
As a music major at Concordia University, Nebraska, you will participate in ensembles, either choral or instrumental or both, as part of the requirements for your major. Since ensemble participation doesn’t necessarily factor into your official course load, you may find that you have more opportunities within your schedule to take additional electives that interest you to help round out your career options.
The Bachelor of Music degree in music therapy at Concordia Nebraska is the only program in Nebraska accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music and approved by the American Music Therapy Association. Here, you’ll become familiar with the professional work environment and apply your knowledge to clinical music therapy work with individuals, schools, nursing facilities and other agencies serving people of diverse needs.