Harriet Ziegenhals

Harriet Louise Ilse Ziegenhals, 90, formerly of River Forest, died on Jan. 20, 2016. Born on March 8, 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio to Martin and Helena Ilse. Her father was a Lutheran minister and choir director, and her mother was a contralto soloist. Even as a small girl, she wrote, “The five minutes during which the choir sang each Sunday seemed like magic to me.” She never lost that magic and joy which music inspired, and music became the primary way in which she expressed her faith in God and created community. 

Her father taught Harriet and her sister, Elizabeth Ann, piano and organ, and they helped in the parochial school. They directed the junior choirs at church and sang in the senior choirs. Both her grandfathers and many of her uncles were also Lutheran ministers, as well as composers and musicians. “We learned at an early age,” she wrote, “and in a natural way that faith, as expressed through music, illumines the Word, raising praise and prayer to a higher level than words alone can reach.” 

Harriet graduated from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and served on the faculty. She received a Master of Sacred Music degree from Union Theological Seminary, where she also met and married Walter Ziegenhals. Upon graduation, Harriet and Walter shared in chaplain and pastoral ministry in East Harlem in New York, a Naval Jet Air Base in Texas, and Cleveland’s inner-city. 

She sang under Robert Shaw for 18 years in New York City and Cleveland, and was one of a select group of singers who went with Shaw to sing under Pablo Casals for three summers at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico. 

She worked in church, school, and community, serving as music teacher, director, organist, worship and workshop leader, lecturer, composer and arranger. She published a number of anthems, hymns, and contemporary songs. She was founder and director of the Metropolitan Chorus of Cleveland and the Community Renewal Chorus and All God’s Children in Chicago, and was director of Heritage Chorale in Oak Park. She was active in the American Choral Directors Association, the National Board of Choristers Guild, and was a member of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest where she served as director of the Women’s Choir. 

“I am a fervent believer in the power of music to heal, to uplift, to break down barriers, to unify, to celebrate,” she said. She touched hundreds of young people and others through her music, her compassion, her listening, her ability to build community, and her love of God. 

Harriet Ziegenhals is survived by her husband, Walter E. Ziegenhals; her children, Timothy (Rama) and Gretchen (Norman); her sister, Elizabeth Ann Van Epps; and her six grandchildren. 

In lieu of flowers, memorials to the Community Renewal Chorus, 1074 W. Taylor, Box #174, Chicago, 60607 are appreciated by the family.

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