Richard Walter Hillert (March 14, 1923—February 18, 2010), best known for his work as a composer and teacher of composition, was Distinguished Professor of Music at Concordia University, River Forest, Ill., his alma mater. His “Worthy Is Christ”, with its antiphon, “This is the feast of victory”, was written for the Lutheran Book of Worship, published in 1978. Known to millions of Christians simply as “This is the feast”, the canticle is now widely published in more than 30 worship books of many denominations, and sung weekly in worship services around the world.
Richard Hillert was born in Granton, Clark County, Wisconsin, on March 14, 1923. He attended parochial and public schools and later enrolled at Concordia Teachers College, River Forest (now Concordia University Chicago), where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Education. He served as teacher and music director for parishes in St. Louis, Missouri, Wausau, Wisconsin, and Chicago and Westchester, Illinois.
He received a Master of Music (1955) and a Doctor of Music (1968) in composition from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. He also studied composition with the Italian composer, Goffredo Petrassi, at Aaron Copland’s, Berkshire Music Center, Tanglewood, Mass.
His career as a teacher at Concordia spanned four decades, from 1959 to 1993. During this time he taught classes in music theory and composition, music literature, 20th century music, orchestration, keyboard instruction, comparative arts and liturgical worship.
As a composer, Richard Hillert wrote liturgical pieces and hymns and served as music editor for Worship Supplement (1969) and Lutheran Book of Worship (1978). His Setting One of Holy Communion appears in LBW, LW, and LSB.
In 1987 his “We Rely on the Power of God” was sung in the Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona. The pope included the text in his sermon.
His compositions and publications include liturgical music for congregation, choral motets, hymns, hymn anthems, concertatos and cantatas. He edited 11 volumes of the Concordia Hymn Prelude Series.
He served in various capacities in the music department at Concordia including chair in 1964-65 and from 1986-1989, coordinator of the Master of Church Music program and associate editor of the journal Church Music (1966-1980).
He received honorary degrees from Concordia University at Seward, Nebraska in 2000, and Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in 2001. In 2002 he received an honorary Doctor of Sacred Music degree from Valparaiso University.
Richard Hillert authored numerous scholarly articles and reviews for various periodicals. He enjoyed his role as mentor and friend to his former students, many of whom have careers as practicing church musicians, elementary and secondary school teachers, and teachers in higher education, music editors and publishers, and composers. He was an honorary life member of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians.
His original manuscripts are archived at the Center for Church Music, Concordia University Chicago.
Taken from the funeral service for Dr. Hillert, Monday March 1st, 2010, 7:00 p.m. at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, Illinois.