Composer of the Month: Kevin Hildebrand

Kevin Hildebrand is Kantor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW), and at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne. His work involves training future pastors at CTSFW in practice and understanding of Lutheran church music and hymnody as well as forming a confessional, congregational, and musical identity at St. Paul’s.

Hildebrand attended Concordia University Chicago for undergraduate study, and afterward, earned master’s degrees in music from the University of Michigan and theology from CTSFW. In Lutheran Service Book, Hildebrand composed the tune “Lord of Life” (552, “O Christ, Who Shared Our Mortal Life”) and wrote harmonizations for three more hymns in LSB.

The Beginning of the Hymn Prelude Library

In addition to composing dozens of pieces for organ and choirs published by CPH, Hildebrand was the editor for the popular Hymn Prelude Library series, a 12-volume series of extensive organ preludes on the hymn tunes in Lutheran Service Book. The series was published from 2012 to 2017 and has given church organists across the country an accessible variety of music on every hymn tune in LSB.

Hildebrand said the music department at CPH approached him with the idea of a hymn prelude library for organists a few years after the release of LSB in 2006. CPH had previously published the Concordia Hymn Prelude Series in the 1980s, which features hymn tunes from Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Book of Worship. With new hymn tunes and new composers available at the release of LSB, the Hymn Prelude Library features longer preludes and contemporary composers—some of whom, like Hildebrand—contributed to the publication of LSB itself.

“The pool of composers was suggested by the music department based on regular composers that they’ve worked with often and those they thought may be worth reaching out to and expanding the pool,” Hildebrand said. “When it came to assigning individual tunes, as the series progressed and I got to know people’s writing, I would have in mind what the strengths of each composer was. Each composer has his or her own style and different ideas, and I took that into consideration when thinking about what kind of setting might work for each tune.”

Variations in the Music Offerings

The music in the Hymn Prelude Library varies to incorporate the many possibilities of registrations and styles the organ can produce as a musical instrument. The styles of writing often reflect the nature of the hymn tune; many hymn tunes in LSB are old German chorales, others are Latin chants, and some contemporary tunes contain hints of both Baroque and Contemporary style.

While editing compositions for the 630-plus hymn tunes in LSB, Hildebrand said he’d sometimes have an idea in mind that he’d suggest for a tune, but he always allowed the composers creative freedom.

“I try not to typecast generally. There are some composers who might be a little more adventurous. Sometimes I’ve made a request like, ‘We could use something that’s more reflective as opposed to really big,’ ” Hildebrand said. “I don’t want to micromanage, but I read somewhere in a book that an editor’s job is to take everybody’s work and, when necessary, make it even better and accessible.”

Considerations When Composing

In addition to working with composers of music during the Hymn Prelude Library’s publication, Hildebrand also had to consider the church musicians who’d be playing the music. Since Lutheran churches are served by organists with a vast spectrum of experience and expertise, Hildebrand had to be sure the compositions were accessible to a broad group of organists.

“That’s the biggest thing—to keep the intended audience in mind. And that’s really the mark of a good writer,” Hildebrand said. “It’s really a testament to the flexibility and great musicianship of all the composers who roll with these things. This is what makes the editing process fun.”

Starting the Piano Prelude Series

Soon after the twelfth and final volume of the Hymn Prelude Library was published in 2017, Hildebrand began the editing process for a similar Piano Prelude Series: a 12-volume series of piano preludes on every hymn tune in LSB. As of July 2020, four volumes have been produced and are available for purchase.

After poring over every one of LSB’s hymn tunes in detail for the Hymn Prelude Library, Hildebrand again is revisiting each tune in the hymnal for the Piano Prelude Series. There are some differences, however, in approaching hymn tunes from the piano bench as opposed to from the organ bench.

“There’s a little bit more flexibility in some ways with the piano. You do have things with the piano that you don’t have with the organ, like successive octaves. You have the opportunity with chords to roll them. That’s a tool with the piano we can use to our advantage,” Hildebrand said. “You also have a wider tonal range on the piano. Sometimes, I’ve encouraged composers that the writing is too organistic. You do have some opportunities where you can expand the tonal compass.”

Where Is the New Series Going?

As Hildebrand writes in his introduction published at the beginning of each volume of the Piano Prelude Series, the purpose of the series is not to replace the use of the organ during services but, rather, both to reach congregations who use piano as their primary instrument for congregational accompaniment and to expand the pool of options when preparing quality and confessional music during worship.

“We want to elevate the bar on piano repertoire in this series. For those of us who are primarily organists, we can use these. I’m using the piano in worship more than I ever have before,” Hildebrand said. “It’s encouraging the use of these hymn tunes along with the organ and other instruments to encourage congregational singing. That’s the whole objective: it’s a mutually beneficial partnership.”

Both the Hymn Prelude Library and Piano Prelude Series are valuable resources for enhancing the musical identity and culture of congregations. They provide opportunities for musicians to introduce unfamiliar hymn tunes to congregants, and also give musicians repertoire to play during services to reinforce and allow people to reflect on the hymns they sing that day.

“There are a number of tunes that haven’t had many or any repertoire written for them, especially for tunes written newly for LSB. And then you can think of tunes where there are countless settings,” Hildebrand said. “That’s one of the best things—that every musician can say they know they’ve got at least one thing on every tune to play.”

To see the wonderful work that Hildebrand oversees and composes, order the latest edition of the Piano Prelude Series below. 

Order Volume 4

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Written by

Nathan Grime

Nathan Grime is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a 2020 graduate of Hillsdale College, where he studied rhetoric, public address, and journalism. Nathan is the fifth and sixth grade teacher at Our Savior Lutheran School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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