Paul Manz, R.I.P.

I was saddened to learn of the death of Paul Manz (May 10, 1919 – October 28, 2009). If you’re not an organist or a Lutheran, this name might not mean much to you. You can read the Wikipedia article, but it doesn’t really explain why he made such a difference to so many people. You see, Paul Manz did something that very few people have done: he inspired a generation (or two) to worship God with deeper joy and greater delight.

Paul Manz was the Cantor (leader of song, the same title J. S. Bach used in his music ministry) at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. More than that, he led hundreds or maybe thousands of hymn festivals across the country. He’d dazzle congregations with his improvisions, especially his hymn introductions. And none of this was to make himself look good. He was too pious for that. No, his entire life could be summarized in the three Latin words that Bach inscribed on many of his manuscipts: Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.

Manz got congregations to sing better. He made people want to sing at the top of their voices. He made organists want to do a better job of leading God’s people in song. Through his many published compositions, he taught a couple of generations of organists how one can transform lives through song, if the organist knows what she or he is doing.

Episcopalians can get snotty about their music. As a matter of fact, I can be that way at times. But my body and soul will never forget the years I spent in the upper midwest at Luther College studying organ. I never studied with Paul Manz, but I played dozens of his pieces. My instructor and my fellow students all sought to lead God’s people in song, often inspired by the methods, the joy, and the holiness of Manz’s works. If you’ve never sung with Lutherans, you’re missing something. For a small sample of Manz’s work, and a thoughtful interview, listen to this episode of Pipedreams.

Paul Manz, rest in peace. If there are pipe organs in heaven, I think the angels and archangels will soon be singing with just a bit more gusto.

UPDATE: A reader has pointed out an error, which I have corrected. The original version incorrectly said that Paul Manz was cantor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. He was actually at Mount Olive (note the missing ‘t’) Lutheran Church. My apologies for the error.

Note: My attention was drawn to Manz’s death thanks to Facebook friend Bob Chapman.

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1 Response

  1. James Sewlay says:

    I found this article very moving and inspiring. I am a pianist and only recently an organ student and occasional organist substitute. I will investigate Pipedreams.

    Thank you for writing this.

    James Selway

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