Bethany Johnson began her studies in music at 5 years old when she started learning the piano and violin. She continued taking piano lessons through high school and competed in various competitions and music festivals. As a sophomore in high school, Bethany began learning the organ and playing regularly in church.
Bethany completed her bachelor’s degree in Parish Music (with a minor in theology) at Concordia University Wisconsin and her master’s degree in Church Music at the University of Kansas. She is currently the Kantor at St. John’s Ev. Lutheran Church in Topeka, KS. She also is a member and officer of Topeka Chapter for the American Guild of Organists.
Bethany serves as the Director and Administrator for St. John’s Music Academy as well as a teacher for SJMA in piano, organ, and violin. She has been teaching private music lessons since 2011 and enjoys watching her students learn and grow in music.
She writes, “There is much goodness, truth, and beauty within the art of music. As a gift from God, music is an instrument by which we can express the beauty of His creation, the truth of God’s Word, and the goodness that it brings to our human nature and to our neighbor in love. I hope every child grows up hearing, singing, and playing music, because it truly makes an impact on their growth in many aspects of their life.”
Bethany is married to Kyle, and they have three children.
Marilynn Bahr studied piano for seven years, playing worship services at her home church, solos in regional auditions plus competing in a state-wide Mendelssohn concerto competition. After four years of organ study at Concordia University Chicago, she earned a B.S. in education with organ minor. Her graduate organ recital was at Grace LCMS River Forest, Illinois; then followed many opportunities to accompany worship up to the present time. Her first piano students were from her home congregation; since then she has been teaching on and off for decades.
At KSU’s McCain Auditorium, Marilynn’s group duet performance of an arrangement of William Tell Overture took place during Convention of Kansas Music Teachers Association. She is also a member of Kansas Federation of Music Clubs, National Federation of Music Clubs and Topeka Music Teachers Association. Her students are members of National Guild of Student Musicians and Well-Tempered Clavichord Junior Club of NFMC. Marilynn finds the refinement of classical music satisfying. Recommended for us all are the words of composer, organist, teacher, J. S. Bach: “The final aim and reason of all music is glorification of God and refreshment of the spirit.”
Marilynn writes, “Studying instrumental music at St. John’s Music Academy enriches one’s appreciation of music at church and at home. Students of all ages discover new ways to express their faith playing music of our rich heritage even as they learn from standard piano methods books. Attending weekly lessons at SJMA, repeating assignments at home prepares them to share favorites with family, friends and our worship community. I look forward to seeing what opportunities open up for Academy students. Meanwhile they find reward in playing music in praise of Him, all the while trusting His blessing!”
As a lifelong LCMS Lutheran, Beverly Sparks has enjoyed both listening to and contributing to music within the church. It was always a dream of hers to play the pipe organ someday. She took piano lessons from one of her elementary teachers for five years through the eighth grade.
In high school, Beverly accompanied choruses and was the pianist for two musicals: My Fair Lady and Calamity Jane. She also learned to play the bass clarinet to play in the band.
Her career goals led her to follow in the footsteps of two older sisters by becoming a registered nurse. While attending graduate school at UMKC, she had the opportunity to take organ lessons at the Conservatory of Music in Kansas City for one year.
Beverly has been an organist at LCMS churches in Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois, and currently plays at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Topeka, KS. She will give piano lessons to beginning students and hopes to help them develop a skill level and passion for music that she has enjoyed her entire life.
Dave Bartels teaches trumpet at St. John’s Music Academy. As a lifelong member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, he has also enjoyed God’s gift of music for more than 45 years. Dave’s musical journey started with two years of piano lessons. His family went to all the concerts in which his siblings were involved, and in the spring of 1976, at a jazz concert, he heard the sounds he wanted to make.
Dave took lessons for six years, developing his talent in playing trumpet. He was successful in marching band, concert band, jazz band, pit orchestra, both solo and jazz ensembles at state music festivals, and the United States Collegiate Wind Band through Purdue University. Since then, he has enjoyed playing for church services, weddings, and even a funeral. Since his retirement, Dave has picked up his horn to hone his skills again and share his gifts of music. His hope is to share this gift of music with young people who are eager to learn and be proficient. He believes music will teach a young person unselfishness, passion, perseverance, self-control, and all the benefits of hard work.
Piano and Flute
Erin Grass has taught K-8 music at Topeka Lutheran School since 2018, and taught PreK-12 music for three years prior in Missouri.
Erin grew up on a farm in southwest Nebraska and was involved with the music at her church at an early age. While attending Concordia University in Seward, NE, Erin was a member of the Jazz Band, Pep Band, women’s chorus, and the Symphonic Band and A Capella Choir, which both toured the US. She graduated with a degree in K-12 Instrumental and Choral Education.
Erin has been teaching private piano and flute lessons since 2016 and has been involved in assisting with church music at her previous church in MO, serving as a guest organist for an area church, and now currently using her passion for music during St. John’s services. Erin is married to Josh Grass, and they have a daughter.