Browsing Tag

church music

The Inside Voice

The Inside Voice: Heather Sorenson

August 14, 2015



As part of our ongoing series of interviews, Pepper had the opportunity to sit down with arranger and composer Heather Sorenson. A church pianist since the age of 7, Heather has lived in the midst of sacred music for her entire life. She began arranging as a junior high school student after coming in second in a performance competition to a young woman who had arranged her own piece. For the next ten years, Heather made a name for herself as a talented and knowledgeable pianist with a profound talent for arranging sacred music.

It was composer Joe Martin who first approached Heather Sorenson about creating her own original piece. At the time, she felt embarrassed about the fact that she had never composed before, but she agreed to try. The result was “God of Heaven,” the song that put Heather on the map in the choral industry.

According to Heather, the greatest inspiration comes from her personal faith journey. She lets her music reflect her relationship with God and the experiences she has had. Her pieces are often inspired by words or excerpts from religious texts that have spoken to her over the years. This inspiration can come from both contemporary and traditional worship styles, and she is known to blend these two sources in unique ways. Above all, however, is her drive to bring authenticity to every piece she writes. In her mind, it is this level of authenticity that has led to the popularity of her pieces in such a wide range of worship communities.

Her latest project is a Christmas cantata called “The Silence and the Sound.” The inspiration for this piece came to her while reading through the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” which she uses as the anchor for the cantata. The forty-minute piece is set for SATB choir with optional solos, children’s choir, and congregation participation.

View the entire playlist on the J.W. Pepper blog or on the J.W. Pepper YouTube channel.


14,000 Pipes, 90 Years: A Tour of the Austin Organ

June 9, 2015



Pepper’s own Rocco Richardson had a chance to speak to Scott Fredericks, minister of music at St. Matthew Lutheran about their famous Austin organ, the eighth largest organ in the world. Enjoy!

The first time I was in the presence of the Austin Organ at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Hanover, Pennsylvania, I was taken aback by the sound and the size of this magnificent instrument.  It was January of 2010 and I was recording the Music in the Valley reading session, an annual event presented by J.W. Pepper, Hal Leonard and Shawnee Press.  Hearing the sound of this organ fill up the nave of the church and seeing how it called the many attendees of the event to rise up and sing was awe inspiring.  It was this inspiration that led me to find out more about this great instrument, and the history it unveiled was as amazing as the instrument itself.

To our surprise and delight, when we approached Scott 20150227_174220Fredericks, the minister of music at St. Matthew about featuring this organ, he informed us that the organ is undergoing a 1.3 million dollar renovation, which includes an entirely new console as well as new pipes, wires, and add-ons.  The renovation is being handled by the original installers, Austin Organs, Inc.

The organ was built in 1924 to be part of the structure of the St. Matthew Lutheran Church.  It is currently the eighth largest playable pipe organ in the world.  However, after this renovation that ranking may change.  At the time of our interview, the organ had 14,341 pipes, with 231 ranks of pipes making up its instrument pallet.

Mrs. Clara Glatfelter Moul paid for the original 5000-pipe organ, as well as all the enlargements and upkeep until this renovation.  When Mr. Fredericks needed funds to renovate this instrument, those who have been inspired by this wonderful organ answered the call.  The parishioners of the church have donated and raised 100% of the money needed for the renovation.  Even some of the children of the church donated a quarter or anything they had, just so they could be a part of it.  It truly speaks to the power of this instrument and the importance it plays in the lives of the people of Hanover, whether they attend St. Matthew or just live in the area, as the organ can be heard across the town when it is played through the church tower.

J.W. Pepper is proud to showcase this national treasure. It is truly one of the most magnificent instruments in the entire world, well worth taking the time to experience in person.  For now, however, please enjoy our video showcasing a taste of the splendor this organ has to offer.


Directors' Toolbox

Happy Holidays, Manic Musicians

December 4, 2012

Tips for Holiday Concert Season Survival

It’s that time of year again… the time when people love the sound of joyous holiday music to put them in the mood to celebrate with friends and family.  Whether the songs are nostalgic, fun, reflective, or worshipful, no one can deny that music is a big part of what makes the holidays so magical.

The folks who make music this time of year, whether in church, school, or the community, know that the holidays bring with them much behind-the-scenes craziness.  In order to help frazzled musicians develop some strategies to hang onto their sanity during all this busyness, here are a few tips:


If you’re a director, you’re used to having many balls in the air at the same time, but you don’t really have to juggle every ball thrown into the mix.  Need someone to shepherd young singers to and from the risers?  Make sure several parents have signed up for that job.  Will there be Christmas trees flanking the stage that need lights?  There is a dad out there waiting to take that on.  Need a program?  Get the information to a tech-savvy volunteer and see how wonderfully it comes out.

Rehearse early and build in extra rehearsal time

Everybody loves to hear, “You know what?  We don’t really need that rehearsal on Wednesday.  Let’s take that day off.”  Certainly more than they like to hear, “Wow, this isn’t even close to ready.  I need to call a couple extra rehearsals.”  Whenever possible, over-schedule your rehearsal time at the beginning of the process.  Better to prepare your ensemble for many rehearsals and then pleasantly surprise them with a reprieve than to suddenly have to scrape for enough rehearsal to present a polished performance.

An ounce of prevention…

Nothing strikes fear into an ensemble like a soloist who’s coming down with bronchitis the week before the performance.  Even though you might feel as though you don’t have time to baby your health, failing to do so can result in more time lost than if you’d made sure to get a full night’s sleep now and then.  It’s not really optional.

Maintain focus

For many, the end of the year is a time of spiritual refection, and keeping this deeper purpose at the center of what we do as musicians can be a big help in managing the frenzy.  In the words of David DiMarino, J.W. Pepper’s vice president of strategic business operations and church musician:  “I seek to find a handful of times throughout the season where I can sit down next to the fireplace with my favorite carols playing in the background and contemplate ‘the reason for the season.’  Taking a few unhurried moments throughout the Christmas season keeps me grounded and focused on why I do all that I do in my crazy life as a church musician.”

With just a little extra attention to managing the inevitable insanity that crops up when musicians are in demand, the music of the season will come out sounding fabulous. And when musicians can jingle those bells without becoming (too) jangled, everybody has a happier holiday!