Meet Rachel Morton (’11/’16), who followed God’s leading to turn her love of music into a meaningful career in the Church.
- Name: Rachel Morton (’11/’16)
- Hometown: Longview, TX
- Now Resides: West Bend, WI
- Undergrad Major: Parish Music (piano and organ), with a minor in Theology
- Graduate Degree: Master’s in Church Music (choral conducting)
- Primary instrument: Piano
- Other instruments: Organ, handbells, voice (“I can also fumble my way around on a guitar or a flute, but would never play in public!”)
- CUW Ensembles: Chapel Choir; Chapel Ringers; Alleluia Ringers; Haven band
I accepted my first call and started working as Assistant Worship Director at St. John’s Lutheran Church in West Bend, Wisconsin in July 2012. I am the principal organist/pianist, direct the choir and handbell choir, play for weddings and funerals, oversee the altar guild, and work alongside the other worship director in the writing of weekend services. Eleven years later I am still serving this congregation with some added responsibilities in Women’s Ministry, and also operate my own small piano studio out of the church.
Who or what inspired me to pursue music:
I had several sources of inspiration when deciding to pursue music, and specifically church music. I have always loved the Church; I remember playing “church” in the backyard with my siblings a lot (whether they liked it or not!). I had a piano teacher—Mrs. Amy Neal—who instilled such a love of music in me that I knew I would grow up to be a piano teacher, but that didn’t really “scratch the itch” of wanting to be more involved in church.
Then when I was in high school, my family moved to a new church and I grew very close to the music director, Martha Garmon. Martha found out I could play the piano, and before long I was accompanying the choir, playing piano and singing for church, ringing handbells, and following her around as her “music intern.” I loved every minute of it, and felt so much fulfillment in watching my passion for music and for the Church and Her people meeting in one place!
Martha had graduated with her master’s degree in Church Music from CUW a few years before I met her, and she was very instrumental in helping me look into church music as a degree path through the Concordia System. I had so much love and support from the church choir and handbell choir, and their encouragement toward the goal of becoming a music and worship director played a large role in my decision to pursue that degree and career path. I know that no matter what path God leads me down in the future, serving the Lord and His people through music will always be a large part of my life.
Favorite CUW memory:
I had the opportunity to go on two mission trips to Mexico with CUW over Spring Break, once to Juárez and once to Acuña. Those trips were life-changing! There was something about the friendships built while riding on (and sleeping on!) a bus for more than 30 hours straight, the exhaustion after a long day of building houses from the foundation up, and the tears of joy watching a family step foot across the threshold of their new home for the first time … it was all so amazing! We worked hard and had so much fun at the same time.
It was so fun to work alongside professors like Dr. Paavola and Pastor Smith and learn new skills from them. We cooked meals together, played with the local kids after working, sang worship songs and did devotions together, and got to experience in a new and beautiful way just how blessed we were at CUW.
Favorite CUW Music memory:
I loved our Alleluia Ringers tours. They took place after classes ended in May, so we had the freedom of a slightly longer tour time without the pressure of classes and exams. We were a small, tight-knit group and had so much fun putting on engaging, well-executed (sometimes choreographed!) concerts at our host churches. And Dr. and Mrs. Behnke also made sure we had some fun on the tours, as well.
I also can’t forget the friendships and memories made playing and singing in a Haven Band and The Cross Band (the group no longer exists, but we were a contemporary band that went out and played for local churches so their existing worship bands could have a break). I loved the friendships made with people who are prayer warriors with me to this day, the creativity of the groups, the exposure to contemporary music, and learning to sing and play keyboard at the same time (a skill that has served me very well in my position at church!). I miss singing worship music in the stairwells after late-night rehearsals!
What CUW Music has meant to me:
My CUW music experience was really most meaningful because of the integration of faith practice with high-caliber, hands-on experience learning. Dr. Freese and Dr. Behnke taught me to play the organ with sensitivity to the text. Dr. Behnke opened my eyes to the world of handbells and just how fun music can be. Dr. Kosche and Dr. Doebele taught me how to take a mix of trained and untrained musicians in a choir and help them to sing with one heart and voice. Professor Little challenged my brain to make theory fun and engaging, and I make sure to incorporate that into my ensembles and my piano lessons. Professor Weiss gave me my first ever voice lesson, and I use the simple techniques she taught me when working with brand new vocalists in the choir to help them feel comfortable.
Because of their well-rounded approach to teaching, I had already practiced planning and writing out a worship service before I took my call to St. John’s. I had learned how to direct a choir from a piano and control the room with a breath and “impulse of will.” I had learned ways to make music in the church accessible to a variety of skill levels. Because of my experience with CMLT and being in a Haven Band, I stepped into my role able to lead both traditional and contemporary worship. Did I know everything I would ever need to know to be successful after college? No, because it’s impossible to learn that much in one snapshot in time. My professors trained me well, though; they gave me a strong foundation to build upon, and through their love of teaching and learning instilled in me a love of continued learning and growth in both faith and music. They made me a life-long learner, which grows both my skill set, my knowledge and understanding, and also my passion for music and the way it serves and supports God’s people in every time and place.
If I had it to do over again, I would choose CUW every time. I highly value their mission of “helping students develop in mind, body, and spirit for service to Christ in the Church and the world.” Music is a head, heart, and hands experience, so I feel like the Music Department embodies that mission. I believe this trained me well not only to lead in the role that I’m in, but that this training translates into all other areas of my life. I am so thankful for the opportunities to learn from such wonderful people, and I pray that God would bless and sustain this department (and school) for many years to come!
How you can help!
The CUW Music Department is currently raising funds to build a new, long-overdue music rehearsal space. The new building will devote 6,800 square feet to rehearsal and practice rooms for the 225-plus students at Concordia who are majoring in music programs or involved in one of CUW’s 12 music ensembles. If you’d like to help, click the link below to find out how to contribute.
Since 1881, Concordia University’s mission has been teaching and preparing students for careers and vocations that serve The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Music has always been an integral part of that mission. The music department contributes to the spiritual, cultural, artistic, academic and co-curricular aspects to University life on campus. As the campus has grown in scope and size the music department has become more integral to the University mission.