National Conference for Sacred Music

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Due to impending inclement weather, the conference schedule has been altered. The changes have been marked in red in the schedule below.

January 4-6, 2017
Charlotte, NC

Leading the Church’s Song

Featuring Robert Hobby, Allen Hightower, Craig Mueller, Eileen Guenther, Tom Shelton, Stephen Mitchell, and Mark Lawson.

Sponsored by Augsburg Fortress, MorningStar Music, and Hinshaw Music, with additional support from ALCM, PAM, and FUMMWA.

National Conference for Sacred Music is a unique conference designed to provide the practicing church musician with fresh new ideas to help create a vital, growing music ministry. The emphasis of this conference is to provide a wide variety of new approaches to revitalize and reinvigorate the church’s passion for music in worship. Sessions will include the following:

  • New worship planning ideas for your congregation and choirs
  • Choral technique classes with an emphasis on deepening the spiritual experience for the choir member
  • Reading sessions featuring new publications from Augsburg Fortress, Hinshaw, and MorningStar Music
  • Sponsorship by three different denominational groups: the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, the Presbyterian Association of Musicians, and the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts
  • Workshops for working with children
  • Handbells
  • Morning worship creatively crafted by Craig Mueller
  • Hymn Festival with Robert Hobby and Allen Hightower

Registration Fee for Entire Conference: $150
Registration Fee for Individual Days: $50
Meal Plan (includes Wednesday dinner, and Thursday and Friday lunches): $35

Hotel Information for NCSM

There are many hotels in the area. A block of rooms has been reserved at The Dunhill Hotel at a rate of $139 (Vintage Queen) or $159 (Deluxe Queen).

The Dunhill Hotel is located 2 blocks from First Presbyterian ChurchPlease call the hotel directly to reserve your room at 704-332-4141, and reference “National Conference for Sacred Music” to receive the conference rate. Or reserve online here. The conference rate is available Tuesday, January 3, through Friday, January 6. Be sure to reserve your room by Monday, December 12, 2016, in order to receive the conference rate.


Wednesday, January 4

2:00pm-3:00pm Registration; Browse Exhibits
3:00pm-3:15pm Welcome, Introduction and AnnouncementsSanctuary
3:15pm-4:30pm Opening Workshop: Ministry in a 24/7 WorldCraig Mueller
5:00pm-6:00pm Dinner (Part of Meal Plan)
6:15pm-7:15pm Workshops
Rehearsal for Friday Night Hymn FestivalAllen Hightower and Robert Hobby
Getting out of the RutTom Shelton
7:30pm-8:30pm Opening Worship Service with the NCSM Faculty
8:30pm Onward Social Gathering/Exhibits

Thursday, January 5

9:00am-9:30am Worship for the Twelfth Day of ChristmasCraig Mueller
9:45am-11:00am Workshops
The Role of Children’s Choirs in Sacred SpaceTom Shelton
Organ WorkshopRobert Hobby
Not Your Parents’ ChurchCraig Mueller
11:00am-11:30am Break
11:30am-12:30pm Reading Session 1: Multi PublisherTom Shelton
12:30pm-1:30pm Lunch (Part of Meal Plan)
1:45pm-2:55pm Workshops
Finding Deeper Connects: Text and EmotionAllen Hightower

SeasoningsRobert Hobby

Handbells SessionMark Lawson
3:00pm-4:00pm Reading Session 2: Multi PublisherRobert Hobby
4:00pm-4:15pm Break
4:15pm-5:30pm Workshops
The Three R’s for Youth ChoirsStephen Mitchell
Not Your Parents’ ChurchCraig Mueller (repeat)
Rehearsal Techniques: Efficiency and HumanityAllen Hightower


Hymn Festival RehearsalAllen Hightower and Robert Hobby


Hymn Festival with Allen Hightower and Robert Hobby

Friday, January 6

9:00am-9:30am Worship for EpiphanyCraig Mueller
9:40am-10:55am Workshops
Rehearsal Techniques: Efficiency and HumanityAllen Hightower (repeat)
HandbellsMark Lawson (repeat)
The Three R’s for Youth ChoirsStephen Mitchell (repeat)
10:55am-11:15am BreakVisit Exhibits
11:30am-12:30pm Reading Session 3: Multi PublisherAllen Hightower
12:30pm-2:00pm Lunch (Part of Meal Plan)Visit Exhibits
2:00pm Exhibits Close
2:00pm-3:00pm Workshops

Organ WorkshopRobert Hobby (repeat)

Selecting Music for Youth ChoirsStephen Mitchell


End of conference

Workshop Descriptions

Not Your Parents’ ChurchCraig Mueller

Many churches are facing declining attendance and morale. Pastor Mueller will tell the story of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church’s redevelopment and growth. Located in Wrigleyvillea diverse, vibrant and somewhat hip neighborhood in Chicago. The church is populated with young adults in a transient and fluid time in their lives. Holy Trinity’s blend of traditional worship/music and progressive theology is both appropriate and surprising. Come and hear more about the congregation’s values of hospitality, inclusivity, liturgy, social justice, and spirituality, and what lessons there might be for the church of the future.

Ministry in a 24/7 WorldCraig Mueller

Most people say that they don’t have enough time. Church professionals often do not model healthy boundaries such as taking a day off or not checking work email constantly. Whether you or others on your staff struggle with workaholism, this workshop will look at the challenge of time in our digital world, and spiritual resources that provide balance, rest, and renewal.

The Three R’s for Youth ChoirsStephen Mitchell


Selecting Repertoire for Youth ChoirsStephen Mitchell

Check out some of the newest as well as best-selling youth choir repertoire.

Seasonings; Energize your Congregational SingingRobert Hobby

Using the hymnal, a variety of practical treatments will be used to illustrate how one can use resources at hand to enhance texts and styles of congregational song.

Finding Deeper Connection: Text and EmotionAllen Hightower

This workshop will examine the relationship between text, musical expression, and emotion. We’ll explore how to draw singers into a deeper connection to the music and text that they sing. The result is a far more meaningful and satisfying experience for both singer and listener.

Rehearsal Techniques: Efficiency and HumanityAllen Hightower

We will explore both philosophy and techniques that relate to building community within the choir and trust between the conductor and choir. How can we work in a time efficient way and yet create a warm and welcoming atmosphere in our rehearsals?

Getting Out of the Rut; Ideas for Introducing New Music to Young SingersTom Shelton

We all have our individual teaching styles when introducing new music. Sometimes we lose our creativity, fall in a “rut” and introduce new songs the same way every time. This session will explore creative ways to introduce a new song to developing singers, focusing on multiple learning styles and musical literacy.

The Role of Children’s Choirs in Sacred SpaceTom Shelton

This session will introduce creative ways for the children’s choir to be “leaders” in worship versus “performers” in the worship service. Introits, Prayer Responses, Anthems Benediction Responses and other service music will be presented. The idea of “framing” will be discussed which allows the children to participate, lead, and be an integral part of the service – instead of becoming a performance slot or a “fill in the blank” anthem that does not enhance the worship experience.


Robert Hobby

Hobby pic

Robert A. Hobby is Director of Music at Trinity English Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his responsibilities include playing for many of the worship services, overseeing ten choral and instrumental ensembles, and managing concerts that the church offers. Among the numerous activities during his tenure, Trinity English has established a choral series with seventeen composers commissioned to date, hosted two regional conventions of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, produced four recordings, and expanded the opportunities for music ministry.

Mr. Hobby received his Bachelor’s Degree in Music (Church Music) from Wittenberg University in 1985 and a Master’s Degree in Music (Organ Performance) from the University of Notre Dame in 1987. His organ teachers have included Darwin Leitz, Kirby and Kristi Koriath, Donald Busarow, Trudy Faber, and Craig Cramer. He has studied composition with Donald Busarow, Richard Hillert, and English composer, Andrew Carter; he has also had private coaching in improvisation with Paul Manz.

To date, most of Mr. Hobby’s composition time has been spent writing commissions for churches and organizations throughout the country. Over two hundred and fifty of his compositions are in print with Augsburg Fortress, Choristers Guild, Concordia, G. I. A., MorningStar Music, Northwestern, Pavane, and Warner Brothers Publishers. A representation of his writing for organ, choral, and instrumental forces can be found on “Thine Is the Glory,” a recording produced by MorningStar Publishers. In 2006, he premiered a major work of his entitled The Good Shepherd , scored for tenor solo, adult and children’s choirs, and orchestra; his thirteen movement choral/instrumental Christmas work entitled Holy Light (2010) is performed throughout the country during the holiday season; both are published with MorningStar Music.

“Hobby” compositions have been appeared nationally on TV (CBS) and syndicated radio programs such as “The Lutheran Hour:, “Sing for Joy” and “Pipe Dreams”; in concert settings at national venues including the National Cathedral (Washington D.C.) and the Meyerson Symphony Hall (Dallas); in festive worship services including that of the national convention of American Guild of Organists in Los Angeles, the installation services of the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA and the Archbishop of Philadelphia, and the anniversary mass of Sacred Heart Basilica at the University of Notre Dame. Most recently, he was invited to write two compositions for papal services at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Madison Square Gardens during the recent visit of Pope Francis to New York. His music is also include on recordings, including performances by the National Lutheran Choir (Minneapolis), by organ duo artists Raymond and Beth Chenault (Spivey Hall, Atlanta), and by concert organist, James Welch (St. Nikolai Church Berlin-Sandau. Germany.)  Hobby’s music appears in hymnals of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, Presbyterian Church of America, and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

As a performer and clinician Mr. Hobby keeps an active schedule throughout the United States. He has played for the national conventions of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada, Organ Historical Society, and National Pastoral Musicians; and he has played for both national and regional conventions of the Association of the Lutheran Church Musicians and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He has been a featured artist with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, performing Poulenc’s Organ Concerto and Haydn’s Organ Concerto #2 in C, and in 2005 he conducted the premiere performance of Andrew Carter’s Concerto in C for organ and orchestra, with David Higgs at the organ. In addition, his workshops for both regional conventions and individual chapter meetings of the American Guild of Organists and other similar organizations have gathered wide acclaim.

Mr. Hobby is a member of a number of professional music organizations and has held a variety of leadership positions. For several years he chaired “Young Lutherans Sing,” a national summer choral program for children, sponsored by the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians. In 1996, he designed and coordinated a hymn festival that was performed simultaneously at one hundred sites around the United States and Canada to commemorate the tenth anniversary of ALCM. He has also served as Dean of the Fort Wayne American Guild of Organists and as a member of the Program Committee for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. In 2014, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Wittenberg University for his professional contributions to church music.

Robert and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents of three daughters: Hannah, Lydia, and Elizabeth.

Allen Hightower


A seventh generation Texan, Allen Hightower is the Director of Choral Studies at the University of North Texas.  At UNT, Allen serves as conductor of the A Cappella Choir and the Grand Chorus, and oversees a comprehensive choral program that includes seven choral ensembles. Dr. Hightower leads the master’s and doctoral programs in choral conducting.

Prior to his appointment at UNT, Dr. Hightower was the first holder of the Weston Noble Endowed Chair in Music, at Luther College, where he served as conductor of the renowned Nordic Choir and Artistic Director of Christmas at Luther. As Luther’s Director of Choral Activities, he gave leadership to a choral program that included four conductors, six choirs, and over 530 singers. Under his leadership, the Nordic Choir recorded six compact discs, made annual tours throughout the United States, and toured Europe on two occasions. In March of 2014, Dr. Hightower conducted the Nordic Choir in performance at the North Central Division of ACDA.

From 2000-2010, Dr. Hightower served as Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Sam Houston State University. During his tenure, the SHSU Chorale performed for the 2007 National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association, the 2010 Southwestern Division of ACDA, and the 2003, 2006, and 2010 conventions of the Texas Music Educators Association.  Prior to his appointment at Sam Houston, Allen was the conductor of the Chamber Choir at California State University, Long Beach.  From 1992-1996 he was Director of Choirs at Odessa Permian High School, and led the PHS Kantorei and Chamber Orchestra in performance at the 1996 Texas Music Educators Association convention.

From 2005-2010 Allen was Artistic Director and Conductor of the Houston Masterworks Chorus and Orchestra, with whom he led performances of many of the most significant masterworks of the choral-orchestral repertoire.  As a church musician, he has served Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational churches in Texas, California, and Minnesota. He served as the Duesenberg Concert Choir Chair for the Lutheran Summer Music Academy and Festival during the summers of 2007, 2011, and 2013.

Allen earned an undergraduate degree in music education from Sam Houston State University, a master’s degree in choral conducting from the Eastman School of Music, a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from Baylor University, and a doctorate in conducting from UCLA, where he served as graduate assistant to Donald Neuen. He pursued further orchestral conducting studies at the University of Southern California; and in 1993 and 2000 was a member of the conducting class of Helmuth Rilling at the Oregon Bach Festival.  Allen was first-prize winner in the graduate division of the ACDA Conducting Competition in 1997; and from 1997-2000 he served as assistant to Paul Salamunovich, conductor the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Craig Mueller

Craig Mueller

Craig Mueller has served as pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago since 1999. He has a doctor of ministry and a master of divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC), a degree in music education from Gustavus Adolphus College, and a certificate in spiritual direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. He currently serves as an auxiliary faculty member at LSTC.

His publications include Soli Deo Gloria: Choir Devotions for Year A; liturgical and homiletical texts and materials for Augsburg Fortress; and an upcoming book, Any Body There? Being Human in a Digital Age. In addition, he was primary compiler for Indexes for Evangelical Lutheran Worship, which includes a list of hymns for each Sunday and festival in the church year. Mueller has led workshops on liturgy and spirituality, chaired worship committees for several national conferences, and for three summers served as chaplain for Lutheran Music Program, a summer music camp for high school youth.


Eileen Guenther

Guenther, Eileen

Eileen Guenther is Professor of Church Music at Wesley Theological Seminary and Professorial Lecturer in music at The George Washington University. An organ recitalist who has performed around the world, Dr. Guenther also lectures widely on clergy-musician relations, global music, spirituals, and music and social justice. She has served as visiting lecturer at Africa University in Zimbabwe and taught music and worship in Uganda and Ivory Coast. South Africa holds a special place in her heart, and she has led six groups of students from Wesley Seminary on immersion trips there. Dr. Guenther served with distinction as minister of music and liturgy at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington D.C, where the choir was called “one of the best in Washington” by The Washington Post. She is in her third term as National President of the American Guild of Organists, the largest international professional organization serving the organ and choral music fields.


Tom Shelton

Tom Shelton

Tom T. Shelton, Jr. is a native of Greensboro, N.C. and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he earned both a Bachelor of Music Education and Master of Music in Choral Conducting. He is Assistant Professor of Sacred Music at Westminster Choir College. Focusing on children’s and youth music at Westminster, he teaches classes in conducting, sacred music, music education and coordinates and conducts the Neighborhood Children’s Choir Program. In addition, he is the Director of Music for Children’s and Youth Choirs at Princeton United Methodist Church.

Mr. Shelton has a passion for music education in all areas: church, school and community. He taught middle school choral music in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County for 18 years. During that time he was selected Teacher of the Year for both Atkins Middle School and Kernersville Middle School. In 1999 the North Carolina Music Educators Association presented him with the North Carolina Middle School Music Teacher of the Year award.

Mr. Shelton is active with the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), currently serving as the National President-Elect. Other ACDA leadership positions have included Southern Division President (2011-2012), National R&S Chair for Middle School/Junior High Choirs (2007-2009) and North Carolina President (2005-2007).

Mr. Shelton has conducted festivals and honor choirs for elementary, middle school and high school students in 20 states as well as Hong Kong. He is the Series Director for the Music for Young Voices Series with GIA Publications and has compositions published by Choristers Guild, Colla Voce Music, G. Schirmer, Galaxy Music, GIA Publications, Heritage Music Press, Hinshaw Music Company, Santa Barbara Music Press, and Walton Music.

Stephen W. Mitchell

Mitchell, Stephen

Stephen W. Mitchell is in his sixteenth year as Director of Music at Athens First United Methodist Church in Athens, Georgia, where he directs the Sanctuary Choir, Chamber Ensemble and two handbell choirs, and oversees an extensive graded choral, instrumental and handbell program. Stephen is also in his eleventh year as Director of the Athens Choral Society, a 90 voice, non-auditioned community chorus. Recent concerts with the ACS have included Barnett Bluegrass Mass, Bach Magnificat, Cherubini Requiem, Rutter Mass of the Children, Rheinberger Star of Bethlehem and Copland Old American Songs among others. A native of Pensacola, Florida, Stephen holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Birmingham-Southern College. Stephen was a Choral Scholar at Wells Cathedral in Wells, England from 1992-1996, where he sang daily evensong in the choir of men and boys, recorded several CD’s and performed live radio and television broadcasts and in concerts throughout Europe, South America and the US. Active in many professional organizations, Stephen currently serves on the design team for the National Convocation of The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts and serves on the organizations National Council. Stephen is active as a choral clinician having recently conducted festivals Colorado, North Carolina, and Florida. In his spare time, Stephen enjoys traveling and especially spending time at the beach.

Mark Lawson

New Mark casual crop

Mark W. Lawson is the President of ECS Publishing Group, parent company for E.C. Schirmer, Galaxy Music Corporation and MorningStar Music Publishers. He is active as a clinician, writer and conductor, and has produced many recordings of choral music and hymn festivals. Mr. Lawson was conductor of The Gateway Ringers, an auditioned community handbell group, from 1997-2003. He has conducted numerous youth choir and handbell festivals in several states, and has been responsible for developing several important choral series in his capacity at MorningStar. Mr. Lawson has contributed written material to numerous music periodicals and books over the last 20 years. Mr. Lawson has a degree in Music Education from Southwest Baptist University, and a Masters of Church Music degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.