Photo: Paul Nixdorf

Photo: Paul Nixdorf

Susan Palo Cherwien

I have written poetry since I was in about third grade. In my memory trunk I still have a piece of manila paper (remember manila paper?) with my third-grade poem illustrated in crayon and construction paper cut-outs. And I remember that I wrote a poem in fifth grade right after we all learned that President Kennedy had been shot. It began "He was riding in a bubble-top car/A shot rang out, heard near and far..." Quite overly dramatic, but heartfelt. Writing poetry also helped me survive my teen years - such pathos, such pain! - nobody gets to see those poems but me, to remind me of whence I've come and through what dark vales. And here I am!

Although through most of high school I intended to be an astronomer or an archæologist, by my senior year I had decided instead to study music, specifically, voice. When I auditioned for the Wittenberg University voice faculty, though,  they didn't hear possibilities in my little wispy, nymphs-and-shepherds voice, and so in a grand inspired leap to stay in the Bachelor of Music program, I decided on the spot, prodded by the Holy Spirit, I think, to study church music at Wittenberg. I had grown up in a Finnish congregation in the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, singing hymns since I was little - it was by singing hymns in church, in fact, that I learned to read music. I sang in the children's choir, and eventually in the chancel choir. I was steeped in the music and poetry of the church. So - church music.

It's interesting, in retrospect, to look back at our lives and see the arc of how our talents and our opportunities and our choices all move us - hopefully! - toward a fulfillment of who we came here to be. My studies eventually led me to Berlin, both for church music at the Berliner Kirchenmusikschule, Spandau, and later for voice, at the Hochschule der Künste. I got to sing the most marvelous poetry in many languages. I got to sing great oratorios and cantatas. I also met my spouse David Cherwien over there, whose talents placed me deeply into the world of Lutheran church music.

So from growing up in northeastern Ohio singing great hymnody in the Lutheran church, I have hundreds of hymns in my memory. (Sometimes when a line or phrase comes to me too easily in writing, I fear that I've sung it sometime before!) From studying voice, I have the beautiful poems of many lands vibrating in my bones, and a feel for words that are good in the mouth. A deep interest in scripture and theology and spirituality led me to complete a Master of Liberal Studies in spirituality, ritual and the arts at Mundelein College in Chicago, and I never stop reading the great thinkers and mystics, novelists and poets. My love for science and the natural world is never far away. All those threads of my life come together when I sit down to write hymns for congregational singing. It's quite a remarkable thing to me, really, to reflect on how I got to this work in life from my childhood in Ashtabula, Ohio. Life is a marvel.

So here, more succinctly, are the essential details of my educational and writing life so far:

  • Born in 1953 in Ashtabula, Ohio to Myrtle Marie Grapatin Palo and John W. Palo

  • Baptized and confirmed at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church (LC-MS), Ashtabula, Ohio

  • Graduated in 1971 from Harbor High School, Ashtabula, Ohio

  • Graduated in 1975 from Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio (Bachelor of Music in Church Music and in Voice). Junior year at the Berliner Kirchenmusikschule, Spandau

  • Abschlußprüfung in Vocal Performance from the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin, July, 1981

  • Master of Liberal Studies from Mundelein College, Chicago, Illinois, 1993 (Spirituality, Ritual, and the Arts)

  • 1997O Blessed Spring, first collection of hymntexts (27), published by AugsburgFortress Publishers

  • 2001 To God Will I Sing, sacred vocal music collection (edited and translated), AugsburgFortress

  • 2003Crossings: Meditations For Worship, first collection of hymn festival reflections, published by MorningStar Music Publishers

  • 2009From Glory Into Glory: Reflections For Worship, second collection of hymn festival reflections (MorningStar Music Publishers)

  • 2010Come, Beloved of the Maker (35 hymns), AugsburgFortress Publishers

  • 2017Peace, Be Still (30 hymns), AugsburgFortress Publishers

  • 2019To God I Give My Melody: Reflections For Worship, third collection of hymn festival reflections (MorningStar Music)