A million years ago a young boy on the plains of Nebraska heard for the first time the music of Paul Manz and his life was changed. It was me but it could be said of thousands of young men and women throughout the Lutheran Church who heard the passion, fire, and drive of this composer, organist, and improvisor. Like Bach so long ago who had become bored with the plodding way that the great Lutheran chorales had been played, Manz was intent upon revitalizing the place and role of hymnody within the Church. I wish I could recall which of his improvisation/publications I first heard. All I remember is that once I heard one, I had to hear more. He will be remembered for many things but I will remember him best for his hymn festivals in which the star was not the man at the console but the very hymn itself.
Some were short and simple and others were elaborate and well refined but the hymn improvisations of Paul Manz reflected his love for the text and the tune, the delight when you find that perfect marriage of text and tune, and the wonderful curiousity employed to reflect all the nuance of text and tune with the full tonal resources of the pipe organ.
His collaboration with Herman Schlicker brought so many new and exciting instruments to Lutheran congregations and schools. Although the acoustical environment of Mount Olive were not the best, it was this instrument that Paul and Herman built which impressed so many. The lush strings, sturdy principals, almost wicked mixtures, and fiery reeds made me want to have such an instrument. Though I will never be remembered for my musical ability, it is to the credit of people like Paul Manz that a new piipe organ has been installed in every congregation I have served. When I hear the 60 ranks of the instrument here at Grace Lutheran Church and watch Cantor Rocky Craft play Manz' Aria or Variations on O God, Our Help in Ages Past or his use of God of Grace and God of Glory to introduce the hymn, I think back to the first time I heard Paul Manz. The Church is richer by far for people who use their talents and skills to enrich what happens on Sunday morning -- a more noble pursuit I cannot imagine. So let me sing a Te Deum Laudamus for Paul as All Saints Day approaches.
Listen to his music and shout a "Thanks be to God."
I attended Concordia Academy and Junior College in St. Paul, MN from 1957 - 1962, and had the honor of listening to Dr. Manz play the organ at Graebner Memorial Chapel during most Friday morning chapel services.
One never had to turn and look to see who was at the console in the balcony when he played. The organ told us.
Thanks be to God for the talent that He gave to Dr. Manz to share with so many people for so many years.
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