In the wake of the decision to close the St. John’s Lutheran Academy and reopen the school under new management, church members and educators are searching for ways to strengthen their bonds with the larger community. Paul Lindblad, the liturgical director at St. John’s Lutheran Church and the music teacher at the school, is hoping a new choir group will hit all the right notes.
Lindblad has invited all third- through eighth-graders to join the St. John Choristers, a choir that will teach children the basic principles of music. Though the group is affiliated with St. John’s church and the new Walther Lutheran Academy of Forest Park on Circle Avenue, Lindblad has opened the choir to children from any local school or religious affiliation.
The choristers’ first meeting will be later this month on Sept. 25.
“We’ve been expanding our vision and asking ourselves: what is our place in the community?” Lindblad said. “We wanted to create a new program as a service open to the community at large, no matter what their religious faiths are. Whether they join the church is immaterial.”
After more than 130 years under the St. John’s name, parishioners voted last winter to close the school after years of declining enrollment and deficit spending began to overwhelm the congregation’s resources. In March, the Walther Lutheran Academy offered to manage the K-8 institution. Within a few months the new board of directors secured additional faculty and students from a neighboring Oak Park school and was able to begin the 2007-08 school year with a larger student body than anyone expected.
Part of the challenge facing the revamped institution now is to merge a trio of formerly independent institutions into a single entity. Leaders at the both the church and the school are optimistic that an inclusive choral group can help establish new traditions.
“St. John’s has always been very strong in our music,” Rev. David Kluge, pastor of St. John’s, said. “This is a follow up on our relationship with music and with the close of the St. John’s school, so we hope to rebuild the children’s choir. Our intention is not to take people from other churches; we just hope to keep a strong music community.”
Lindblad received his master’s degree in church music from Concordia University and has worked with internationally renowned musicians. Lindblad also directs the Oak Park Concert Chorale and runs an independent children’s chorus in Des Plaines, which acted as the impetus for the St. John Choristers.
This democratic approach to forming a chorister group is somewhat unique. As Lindblad notes, most churches and religious communities have worked introspectively, focusing programs and activities predominantly on their own members.
“This is a new venture for this congregation in not only committing to partner with Walther for the school but expanding our vision and ministry to bodies other than church members, and that’s a very healthy thing,” Lindblad said. “We haven’t had a lot of other things open to the community before. So, it’s a big step, a leap of faith.”
And such a leap of faith has the support from both the school and the church’s top administrators.
“The chorister group fits in totally for us as Christians,” academy Principal Steve Zielke said. “It also gives children at large a chance to develop their music abilities, which is an advantage for the well-rounded education.”
The chorister group will meet every Tuesday evening for two hours and children will learn vocal techniques, musicianship, how to read music, rhythm reading and ear training. Performances include a large concert in early December and a music celebration in the spring. The chorister group will attend a winter choir retreat during Presidents’ Weekend.
“We have to be realistic, we’re not going to have millions of kids,” Lindblad said. “But you have to start somewhere. This is a fairly specialized focus, but I figure that there are people in this community who want to have a good education in music and the chance to perform, albeit in a church setting. In the end, I am just very glad we are finding ways to reach the community.”