March 26, 2018
Composers / Pastoral Musicians of the Month


Alissa Hetzner

Now, maybe this has always been the case, but in recent years it has struck me more and more, that many people who are involved in liturgical music are also quite active in musical theatre.  It certainly was the case for me and my family.  My father was a church organist, and also played the piano for musicals throughout his life, and our family sing-alongs at home were always filled with singing from Rogers and Hammerstein and the like.  My mother sang in church and taught singing to the nuns when she was young, and also sang Gilbert and Sullivan.  The same was true for us kids.  And I continually meet liturgical musicians who are also very involved in community and semi-professional musical theatre companies.  It is quite remarkable. 

Well – this is certainly the case with my dear friend, Alissa Hetzner.  Alissa was born and raised in Frankenmuth, Michigan (right next to my home town of Bridgeport – not as famous, mind you) – home of the best chicken dinners in the country (the Bavarian Inn and Zehnders) and a town that has a 365 days of the year-long obsession with Christmas (Bronners – maybe you have made a pilgrimage there?), where she grew up equally involved in plays and musicals while in school, and at the same time, played the piano, organ and sang at Blessed Trinity Church.  Not much has changed.  Alissa has been director of music and liturgy at Blessed Trinity for a good part of her adult life, as well as being extremely engaged in musical theatre work, as a music director, singer, pianist, and coach.  For many years only until recently, she was a member of the musical theatre faculty at Oakland University, near Detroit; and often has juggled playing and coaching for several shows at the same time.

When one thinks more about it – it makes sense.  In musical theatre, of course, the actors are on the stage, sharing a musical and lyrical story for the audience.  In liturgy, the assembly (congregation) are, as Kirkegaard would say, the “actors and players,” and the ministers (which includes pastoral musicians) are merely “prompters, giving cues and suggestions from the wings.”  And the audience, the “audience is God.”  Alissa knows what the roles are for both of her passions, and in both instances, she is about empowering everyone involved.  In her theatre work, she is empowering the actors/singers to sing and tell the story; and in worship, she helps to empower you and I to express our faith, our praise, and even our aches and laments – to the God who calls us each by name.  In other words, she “gets it.”

Musically, Alissa has always been a wonder.  First of all, she has always been able to play or sing (sight-read) just about anything you put in front of her.  She can move back and forth between classical styles, pop styles, and every other alternative genre that you can think of.  She also is a very fine singer and cantor, and understands how to help both cantors and stage singers succeed not only vocally, but in communicating the text and leading the people into the story, whether it be Sondheim or the psalmist David.  She has   a particular love of young people, and was a member of the team/faculty for “Music Ministry Alive” for many years, teaching piano, and helped to mentor many young women and men in pursuing pastoral music ministry.  Alissa understands what it means to be a team player, being extremely adept in understanding how ensembles and instrumentalists interact with each other, especially in their role of leading a musically untrained assembly in praise.  Her tenderness, generosity, and tremendous sense of humor makes up the qualities that are needed in ministry.  And unlike many who are involved in theatre (if I may say so), she is always real.  What you see is what you get.  There is no phoniness in Alissa, and she is anything but a diva.  The drama stays on the stage for Alissa, and in her ministerial leadership, the drama is totally absent.

Now, it is true, I cannot be objective at all about Alissa.  We have been dear friends for many years – she truly is my sister in music and in faith.  She has truly been a most “pastoral” musician for me in some difficult times.  She played the piano and helped me to pray in song for the funeral/memorial liturgies for both of my parents, for my Aunt/Godmother, and for my mentor in ministry, Sr. Roberta Kolasa, SJ – all in the last 7 years.  We have served side by side at many liturgical celebrations, and I have learned much from her over the years, not only as a musician, but what it means to be a servant for the people she loves, as she demonstrates so beautifully at Blessed Trinity parish.

Alissa has been in the midst of health struggles in recent years, and yet, she has not relented in her dedication as a pastoral musician, even when it has been difficult and challenging for her to do so at times.  She inspires me.  She is my dear friend.  We need more music ministers like her.  Alissa, keep witnessing for us what the paschal mystery looks like, and how our sung prayer is the language for the journey.  (DH: 3.26.18)

Alissa Hetzner and Friends Singing “Tomorrow Medley”

Alissa Hetzner and Friends Singing “No Words”


“A Blessed Trinity Christmas”

Fred Moleck

All of us in the ministry of pastoral music can call to mind and share the stories of those who have inspired us as mentors.  For me, Dr. Fred Moleck is one of those key people who have anointed and sparked my commitment to liturgical music ministry. 

There are not many of what I would call, “Liturgical Musicologists” out there – but Fred is among the few of them, holding a tremendous knowledge of sacred music history, and the developments of church music since the antiquity and middle ages, right through the developments of the Second Vatican Council, up until the present era.  He served in parish music ministry for 46 years and taught at various colleges and universities for 39 years, touching the lives, hearts, and minds of students from all over the world.  In 2001, instead of retiring, he began a new phase of work as the Director of Worship for the Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania for four years.

In 2004, he was awarded the Michael Mathis Award in Pastoral Liturgy by the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, and in 2006, he was awarded the Pastoral Musician of the Year by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM). He has authored two books published by GIA Publications: Scripture Reflections for the Church Musician and Table Talk: Musings on Music, Church and Culture, both invaluable resources that I would heartily recommend be in the hands of all pastoral musicians.  In addition, he has authored numerous articles in both Roman Catholic and Lutheran periodicals; and is known by most of us in recent years as being the founding editor of the GIA Quarterly, from which he retired from only a couple of years ago. For many years, Fred was also a summer adjunct faculty member of the Graduate Program in Pastoral Ministries at Santa Clara University in California.  Never a musical snob, Fred can see in all genres and styles of music as being authentic instruments of sung prayer – as long as it was done well, and done in the spirit of service.  He has also been highly acclaimed as being the text editor for Worship: Third Edition (GIA).

For all of us who have known Fred over the years, there are just far too many stories that are telling regarding his amazing – and very unique – sense of humor, being able to make anyone laugh at the drop of the hat to the point of tears.  It would be very common for Fred to greet you on the phone with such invitatories as: “what are you wearing?” or “Greetings!  Share with me your insights on the Roman Empire!” or, “Describe and share with me everything you have done in the past 3 months.”

Fred now is retired from his busy and full life of ministry, writing, and music making – but he continues to be our friend, continues to make us laugh, and still – nurtures our hearts.  I simply love him.  God bless you, Fred.  (DH: 3.26.18)

Dr. Fred Moleck – Catholic Worship Reform, Protestant Worship Renewal: 21st Century Impact 

Greg Papesh

The young are not the “future” of the church, they are the church right now.  We forget this.  We forget about this nagging thing called Baptism.  It is our baptism that sparks the seed of holiness in our minds and hearts, and that nurtures and refines it as we grow older.  While not magic, our baptism initiates our call to serve.  Greg Papesh has always understood this, and because of his understanding, he has committed his amazing talents to the service of God’s people – through his love of sung prayer.

Now 30 years old, I first came to know Greg as a young high school student when he first attended “Music Ministry Alive” as a youth participant many years ago.  From the Indianapolis, Indiana region, Greg, while studying piano from an early age, had, and has – a unique gift that is almost impossible to teach.  He is a pianist of the highest caliber, with a fresh and unique touch and style, and most of all – imagination.  This is a young man who could be making a very good living as a working musician, pianist and arranger in various corners of the music “business,” but Greg has chosen without hesitation, to dedicate his astonishing talents to serving in the ministry of liturgical music.

Father of a beautiful 9-year old daughter named Andrea, Greg attended Marian University in Indianapolis, and graduated from there in 2010 with a major in piano performance with additional studies in their liturgical music program and serving as the accompanist for the University Sacred Choir. Upon completing his degree, he taught at Saints Francis and Clare Elementary School in Greenwood, Indiana for 6 years, while playing and directing music for liturgical celebrations at the parish and other parish communities in the surrounding area.  He just recently began a new position as full-time Director of Music at St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis. (

Years after being a youth participant at “Music Ministry Alive,” he joined the team as a faculty member and teacher, sharing his tremendous skills as both a professional pianist, a gifted improviser, and a talented minister of music.  Greg is one of those pianists where you can give him a 5 note musical motif, and he will sit down at the piano and create – on the spot, a 10-minute keyboard fantasia that takes the simple melody to new heights.

I have so been impressed and blown away by his incredible talent, that I invited him to create two such “medleys” of some of my liturgical compositions. You can experience his gift for bringing a fresh and engaging interpretation of my music on my most recent CD recording, “I Will Bring You Home: Songs of Prayer, Stories of Faith” (GIA).

But what fundamentally surrounds Greg’s tremendous God-given talent, is the “yes” that he continually gives to God to serve; to offer his gifts so that the greater community can sing and pray.  His ministry in pastoral music has barely begun, and I am excited so see where my “son in the Lord” will take us.  We celebrate you Greg!  Keep saying yes.  (DH: 3.26.18)

Greg Papesh – Zelda’s Theme


Ubi Caritas by Ola Gjello at Music Ministry Alive 2016 – Greg Papesh, piano

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