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Michael Engelhardt is a contemporary choral artist whose mission is to create participatory music that promotes personal wellness and social harmony. He frequently combines historical choral material with elements of pop, soul, and electronic music to create sounds that appeal to general audiences. His works have been performed at Carnegie Hall, on national television and radio programs, ACDA National and Regional Conferences, Jazz Educators Network Conferences, and multiple All-State Choir Festivals. 

His quest to find new ways to bring choir to the people led to the launch of a social singing movement called Beer Choir in 2014. The project is focused on bringing people of all skill levels together to sing in public spaces for fun, social connectivity, artistic outlet, and to support craft beer brewers. The organization has chapters in major cities across the USA.

A native of Woodstock, Illinois, Michael holds degrees from Millikin University and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He is currently based in St. Louis, where he lives with his wife and two children.

Artist's Statement

My dad worked in a plastic molding factory and my mom was a dressmaker, so I have always lived in the tension between industry and artistry, pop culture and haute couture, blue jeans and white gowns. Artistically, I deliberately fuse these influences together to create pop-leaning, classically-crafted choral music. There are two main genre hybrids that guide most of my compositional output – Gospel/Soul and Ancient/Future. One involves retrofitting and the other is a kind of forward-fitting. 

After years of listening to Motown, funk, soul, and pop radio stations as a kid, it turns out that I am a very capable R&B singer myself (for a guy with a last name like Engelhardt). That, combined with my educational background in vocal jazz and classical choral music, has led to some incredibly fulfilling opportunities as a Gospel/Soul choir director, composer, singer, and producer. My ‘legit chops’ in the choral realm allow me to retrofit contemporary gospel ideas – jazz derivative harmonies, funk grooves, chest-voice belted triadic vocals, learned by rote – into a suitable format for traditional 4-part (or more) choirs of intermediate to advanced ability level such as high school, university, and some community choirs. 

The other main genre is a forward-fitting of historical choral material into radically modernized settings – what I call Ancient/Future. Using ancient source material such as chants, hymns, and ancient languages, I construct contemporary-sounding versions that also exhibit a high standard of compositional craftsmanship and scholarship. I often reach into my pop music toolkit to incorporate elements of groove, electronic programming, and industrial percussion. Harmonically, my preference is to allow the source melody spin out into its own harmonic language, usually resulting in an array of brilliant cluster chords completely born from the original tune and mode. Edgy, unique, and rabidly ill-received by purists, the Ancient/Future genre represents my most innovative and recognizable contribution to the choral music field.

These hybrid genres just feel natural to me as they seem to bring unity to the inherent dichotomy of my musical background. They also provide a safe framework for exploring many dichotomies of the human experience – strength/weakness, joy/sorrow, faith/doubt, victory/victimhood, true self/false self, empowerment/discouragement, unity/division, harmony/discord. 

I consider myself a semi-independent composer because my approach to publishing is also hybrid in nature. Six works are published with the highly-esteemed Walton Music/GIA Publications, one is published by Hinshaw Music. The rest are self-published, sold via my website and the online music retail giant, J.W. Pepper. I have been honored to have my music grace the stage of Carnegie Hall three times in the past three years – once with the published work ‘Gaudete’ and twice with the self-published ‘I Will Sing.’

Although distinctly positive in vibe, my choral work frequently references personal forays into the shadow side of life which provides an honest and sober backdrop for often exuberant and groove-driven expressions of awe, joy, empowerment, and gratitude. A kindred invitation is extended to those who have also experienced contrasting seasons of darkness and light. Always, the goal is to facilitate moments when singers, conductors, and audiences can meet at the soul level – as deep cries to deep.

Pursuit of that ideal has recently led to experimentation with a song-based approach to personal development, mental health, and social harmony. I have produced a number of my own community singing events, meditative singing exercises, and participatory songs that encourage vulnerable self-exploration. I am compelled by rapidly emerging research on the topics of positive psychology, meditation practice, neuroplasticity, and the role of music in memory and cognition. The overwhelming and ultimately inspiring conclusion is anything but surprising. Singing, especially group singing, holds an enormous untapped potential for psychological and social transformation. 

It makes me wonder: Is there a new genre waiting to be born? Could we create a style of participatory music that promotes personal wellness and social harmony? Could this new music have a measurable and sustainable positive effect on the lives of real people? What would it look like? What would it sound like? And once created, what would be the best vehicle for sharing it with the world?

Curriculum Vitae

selected compositions

O Antiqui Sancti (Treble Choir, Synth Bass, Percussion) [AUDIO/SCORE]

2017 – Published by GIA/Walton Music

2017 – Selected for Editor’s Choice catalog by J.W. Pepper online retailer 

2016 – Commissioned by Elmhurst College (Illinois) 


Rest (Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Rhythm Section) [AUDIO]  [ALBUM]

2017 – Released on Downbeat Award-Winning EP Otoño (First Step Records) 

2016 – Performed at Jazz Educators Network (JEN) National Conference 

2015 – Commissioned by Millikin University’s ‘One Voice’ 


Love (Mixed Choir unaccompanied) [AUDIO]

2016 – Recording was mixed and mastered by Grammy Award-winner, Bill Hare 

2013 – Commissioned by the Love Cancer Foundation 


Courage Up (Solo, Mixed Choir, Rhythm Section) [AUDIO]  [VIDEO]

2015 – Co-written with Brian Owens and students from Confluence Academy (St. Louis)

2015 – Finale for ‘Soul of Ferguson’ concert, PBS/Nine Network of Public Media


I Believe (Mixed Choir, Piano, Bass, Drums) [AUDIO/SCORE]  [VIDEO]

2016 – Performed by Oklahoma All-State Jazz Choir

2015 – Published by Hinshaw Music 

2014 – Commissioned by Mississippi Music Educators Association 

2014 – Performed by Mississippi All-State Choir 


I Will Sing (Mixed Choir, Piano, Bass, Drums) [AUDIO/SCORE]  [PROGRAM]

2015, 2016 – Performed at Carnegie Hall 

2015 – Performed by Minnesota All-State Choir and Kansas All-State Choir 

2014 – Co-commissioned by Minnesota and Kansas Music Educators Associations 


Victimae Paschali Laudes (Men’s Choir, Vocoder, Electronic Tracks) [AUDIO/SCORE]  [VIDEO]  [VIDEO] 

2015 – Performed at American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) National Conference 

2014 – Commissioned by University of Kentucky


Wayfaring Stranger (Mixed Choir, Percussion, Electronic Tracks) [AUDIO/SCORE]  [VIDEO]

2015 – Performed at ACDA National Conference 

2014 – Published by Walton Music 


Gaudete (Mixed/Treble/Men’s Choir, Percussion, Electronic Tracks) [AUDIO/SCORE]  [VIDEO]  [VIDEO]

2015 – Mixed Choir version performed at Carnegie Hall [RADIO]  [RADIO]

2015 – Featured on radio program ‘Performance Today’ (American Public Media)

2015 – Featured on St. Olaf Christmas Festival, Minnesota Public Radio and PBS 

2014 – Mixed Choir version published by Walton 

2012 – Men’s Choir version published by Walton Music 

2012 – Men’s Choir version performed at ACDA National Conference 

2011 – Treble Choir version published by Walton Music 


Be Thou My Vision (Men’s Choir, Bass, Percussion) [AUDIO/SCORE]  [AUDIO]  [VIDEO]

2013 - Premiered at ACDA Southern Division Conference

2012 - Commissioned by Kennesaw State University



Otoño, Millikin University’s One Voice [ALBUM]

2017, First Step Records

Arrangement of ‘Rest’


And On Earth Peace, The Choirs of St. Olaf College [ALBUM]

2015, St. Olaf Records

Arrangement of ‘Gaudete’


Exsultate, The Millikin University Choir [ALBUM]

2014, First Step Records



Christmas at Luther, The Choirs of Luther College [ALBUM]

2013, Luther College Recordings

Composer of ‘And Suddenly’


Vespers 2013: Gloria!, The Choirs of Millikin University

2013, First Step Records

Co-Producer, Conductor


Filled With Wonder, The Band and Choir of First Christian Church, Decatur, Illinois

2012, First Christian Church

Producer, Director, Lead Vocalist, Songwriter of ‘Overwhelming’


How Sweet The Sound, The Millikin University Choir

2012, First Step Records



Christmas With Cantus, Cantus Vocal Ensemble [ALBUM]

2011, Cantus Records

Arrangement of ‘Rise Up, Shepherd, And Follow’


Hearts All Whole, The Millikin University Choir

2010, First Step Records



Vespers 2010: Shout The Good News, The Choirs of Millikin University

2010, First Step Records

Co-Producer, Conductor


Vespers 2009: This Wondrous Day, This Shining Night, The Choirs of Millikin University

2008, First Step Records

Co-Producer, Conductor


Vespers 2008: From Generation To Generation, The Choirs of Millikin University

2008, First Step Records

Co-Producer, Conductor


At The Foot Of The Cross, Willow Creek Community Church

2003, Ever Devoted 

Choir Director


Chapter 6 Live, Chapter 6

2001, Chapter 6 Records

Arrangement of ‘Jump, Jive, and Wail’


conferences and festivals

2017 American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) National Conference - Presenter


2016 Oklahoma ACDA All State Vocal Jazz Chorus - Conductor


2015 West Virginia ACDA High School Honors Chamber Chorus - Conductor 


2015 Illinois NAFME District 2 Vocal Jazz Chorus - Conductor 


2012-2015 Millikin University Vocal Jazz Festival - Clinician 


2013 Illinois NAFME District 9 Vocal Jazz Choir - Conductor 


2011 Illinois NAFME District 4 Vocal Jazz Choir - Conductor 


2011 University of Louisville Choral Invitational - Adjudicator, Clinician 


2008-2010 Millikin University Vocal Festival - Conductor, Presenter 


2004-2005 Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit (Germany) - Vocal Director, Co-Producer 


2003-2005 Willow Creek Arts Conference - Vocal Director, Presenter, Co-Producer  



performance and technical credits

Brian Owens and the Deacons of Soul (2015-present) [VIDEO]

Background Vocal Director and Live Video Producer for St. Louis-based soul recording artist


Vespers at Millikin (2015, 2016) [VIDEO]

Video Producer for live-to-tape broadcast on NBC affiliate WAND-TV in Decatur, IL


Ben Folds and the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra (2014) [PRESS]

Background vocalist for national touring and recording artist Ben Folds (from NBC’s “The Sing Off”) 


Mozart International Choral Festival in Salzburg, Austria (2013)

Tenor soloist


Ben Folds and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (2011)

Background vocalist for national touring and recording artist Ben Folds (from NBC’s “The Sing Off”) 


Linda McCrary (2003, 2004, 2005)

Background vocals for Warner Alliance recording artist


Abraham Laboriel (2002, 2003, 2005)

Vocalist for bass player with over 4,000 album credits including Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder 


Kerry Livgren (2003)

Background vocalist for founding member of the rock band Kansas


Tommy Walker (2002, 2003)

Vocal director for Maranatha! Music and Integrity Music recording artist


Chicago Voice Exchange (1996-1998)

Tenor in professional male acapella quintet, winners of 3 Harmony Sweepstakes Regional competitions


notable employment

Beer Choir LLC (St. Louis, MO) – Founder & CEO [WEBSITE]


• created a social singing movement with events in pubs and breweries across America

• composed, edited, and/or arranged all music for the Beer Choir Hymnal (proprietary songbook)

• chapters exist in 30+ cities 

• largest event: 500+ participants in Minneapolis on January 29, 2017 

• partnering with Minnesota Public Radio to produce a 1,500 capacity event in September 2017


Choral Tracks LLC (LaCrosse, WI) – Audio Producer & Consultant [WEBSITE]


• audio editing, mixing, and mastering for choral music recording company

• consulting on branding and marketing strategies


First Christian Church (Decatur, IL) — Director of Worship Arts


• director of arts, choir, band, vocal ensembles, and digital media for a 1,000-member church

• supervisor of department staff, interns, volunteers, special guests, and budget


Millikin University (Decatur, IL) – Music Faculty [WEBSITE]


• conducted mixed, men’s, women’s, and jazz choral ensembles

• conducted pit orchestra for opera productions

• taught coursework in conducting and music theory


Willow Creek Community Church (Chicago, IL) – Vocal Director & Essence Creator [WEBSITE]


• served on main creative planning team for church of over 20,000+ attendees

• led congregational singing for major holidays, special events, and international conferences

• managed a pool of 100+ volunteer and professional singers

• collaborated to create original songs, videos, and theatrical productions


Alderson-Broaddus University (Philippi, WV) — Music Faculty 


• conducted mixed choir, major works, musical theater productions

• directed touring pop/show choir


major works conducted

Bernstein, Leonard - Chichester Psalms (Alderson-Broaddus College)


Handel, G. F. - Messiah (SIU Edwardsville, Decatur Community Sing-Along)


Humperdink, Engelbert - Hansel und Gretel (Millikin University)


Jenkins, Karl - Adiemus (Millikin University)


Poulenc, Francis - Dialogues Of The Carmelites (Millikin University)


Porpora, Nicola - Laetatus Sum (Millikin University)


Vivaldi, Antonio - Gloria (First Presbyterian Church of Waterloo, Iowa)


Whitacre, Eric - Five Hebrew Love Songs (Millikin University)



Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Master of Music in Choral Conducting (2007)


University of Northern Iowa, Masters Studies in Choral Conducting (1998-1999)


Millikin University, Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance (1997)