Remembering Carl Schalk at Camp Arcadia by David & Patricia Leege


Rob Rimbo, Herb Brokering & Carl Schalk at Camp Arcadia for the Church Music Symposium in 2008.

Carl F. Schalk made his final journey — home to his Creator and Redeemer — on Sunday, January 24, 2021, at the age of 91.  Until the final days in hospice, Schalk was still actively composing and writing.  His trademarks were encyclopedic knowledge of sacred and classical music, graciousness, and quick wit.  His most important trait was faithfulness to the Triune God who made and remade him with new life in Jesus the Christ, and kindled limitless creativity coupled to intellectual stamina.  He advised us that “composing is 97% sweat and 3% genius.”

Many Arcadians, however, recognized him as a pivotal music and worship leader in their lives, and a powerful teacher of the many things we know and affirm about God through music.

Within hours, news of Carl’s passing reached not only professional church musicians but also fellow Arcadians.  In the days and weeks following, there was an enormous outpouring of gratitude both in the public and church presses and on social media, for his contributions to hymnody, musicology, and worship leadership.  It took nearly fifty pages to list all the books and articles he had written and the hymns, liturgy, choral works, and organ music he had composed.  

Many Arcadians, however, recognized him as a pivotal music and worship leader in their lives, and a powerful teacher of the many things we know and affirm about God through music.  How did this come to be that a family camp on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan would have such fond memories of Carl F. Schalk?

In 1995 the Lutheran Camp Association established a new endowment called the “J.S. Bach Fund for Lutheran Church Music.”  Through it, in alternate years the Camp would host a major figure from the Church’s music and worship life to lead a Lutheran Church Music Emphasis Week. The incumbent, a highly recognized composer and leader in Lutheran worship and the music profession, would lecture campers on the nature and purposes of church music, lead the people in singing hymns and liturgy that demonstrated these points, conduct a choir that led Evening Prayer (Choral Evensong) at the village church, and simply hang out for conversations with campers and staff.

Carl and his wife +Noel

He taught us how hymns always tell a story, a story about the mighty acts of God for His people. 

Carl was the first to fill this role, serving for over a decade. He was no stranger to the Camp, having together with Jaroslav Vajda composed the 75th anniversary hymn, “By a Lake We Come to Know You.” What a joy he was in person!  Schalk invariably spun humorous stories to embellish a point, and he was often self-effacing.  He taught us how hymns always tell a story, a story about the mighty acts of God for His people.  It wasn’t walking music to fill voids as pastors moved from here to there, or communicants streamed toward the altar.  And it wasn’t a performance to show the virtuosity of the organist or choir.  Music was always anchored in the scriptural texts for the season and Sunday.  It is Soli Deo gloria.  It praises God and instructs the singer/listener in the faith.

Even for non-musicians the Evensong services became a high point for the summer and they requested that it continue in the off-year.  Pat Leege filled in for Carl then, but the services, whether in Carl’s year or its alternate, also involved musicians Pat secured from Interlochen.  Participants were introduced to a wide selection of sacred works ranging from a Bach cantata to a choral concertato or to a new Schalk hymn.  In fact, it became an event for the entire Northwoods.  One year Carl Grapentine, host of WFMT- Chicago’s morning show, drove down from his summer place on Torch Lake.  Choirs reached sixty members some years, but the singing remained in the context of a religious service, not simply a performance. The evening would end with a wine and cheese party on the Leege’s decks.  Gemutlichkeit!

Another remarkable effort in church music came when Camp Arcadia held a Church Music Symposium in 2008.  The leaders were +Carl Schalk, +Herb Brokering, one of Lutheranism’s great poets and a frequent collaborator with Schalk, and Robert Rimbo, then-Bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod ELCA.  These were days close to God, filled with great music, grand ideas, insistent details, and holy mischief.  Several of the church’s hymn writers, composers, and parish musicians attended. And in fact, they were composing at the seminar with a two-hour turnaround for critique. Several of the non-professionals count the seminar as the greatest single Arcadia event in their lifetime.

Many times campers have expressed gratitude to the leaders and funders of these church music events with tears of thanksgiving.  Their home parish had switched to songs and instruments more characteristic of church-growth pentecostal or evangelical emphases on “me.”  Schalk and his successors have kept us always focused on God’s actions. Inspired by these weeks, many have called their music director’s attention to new hymns or choral works or successfully invited the musician to join them at Arcadia. 

Taking lessons learned from Schalk, for the last decade Chip May, as camp director, created wider opportunities for participation through the opening and closing services each week, to the nightly meditative prayer by candlelight with settings from Taize’.  Nowadays three to four weeks of the Summer feature highly respected cantors leading Lutheran Church Music Emphasis.  Although the cantor no longer lectures, he or she leads singing before and during the morning program, explaining features of the hymn of the day, prepares choirs for the evening and closing services, and plays all music.  Often cantors prepare youth, as well, for singing at Talent Show.  The week has become a useful venue for introducing new sacred music.

Quite a legacy from Carl Schalk to the current worshipping community at Arcadia… He caught the vision!  He now shares fully in the Glory of his Savior!  Undergirded by Camp Arcadia’s support for our worship life, we will someday know God as Carl does.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for this piece on Carl Schalk. Carl Schalk, Paul Bouman, and Carl Grapentine were all members of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, the church where I am a member. What a blessing to have spent time with each of them over the years. Carl S. and Paul have now joined the heavenly hosts and Carl G., having retired, moved to Michigan (although attending Grace when he returns to Chicagoland). I miss all three of them.

    Because of his failing eyesight, Carl Schalk could barely read without a magnifying glass. He always sat near the rear of the church, with a couple who picked him up for church every Sunday and then drove him home afterwards. I always sat near the front of the church, turning around at the end of the service to face the cross as it was carried down the aisle to the rear of the sanctuary. And when turning, I could see Carl singing, without the use of a hymnal, having memorized almost all the closing hymns that we sang.

    Thanks be to God for blessing us with these individuals.

  2. The Church Music Symposium has been the high point of my Camp Arcadia experience in all the years I have been coming. I am a fourth generation (of seven) camper. This time was pure delight in experiencing the unique gifts of these three gentlemen. Their shared talent alone was one thing, but combined with their sense of humor and self-deprecating interaction and challenges to the attendees was a once – a – lifetime event. We thank God for their role in our personal and church life.

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