Choir History from Jay Dausch

Email from Jay Dausch,  April 21, 2016

To answer your questions:

First, there are three of us still around who know some of this: me; Carolyn Ostlie (one of the original members from the mid 70’s); and of course Fred Beaudoin (who came in Feb 85).

Jean and I were married at St Louis (the chapel, then the church) in 1972. We moved into the parish in 1973, and shortly thereafter I volunteered for organ duty (I was a pianist, and had picked up organ playing in a dance band).  Monsignor Sauerwein was then the pastor. Mass was celebrated in the church and in the school gym. The organ in the church was a Baldwin home organ – tubes, two short manuals, and a single octave of pedals that could only be played with the ball of the foot. In the gym there was a larger Lowery ‘cocktail lounge’ electronic organ.

In about 1975 or 76, Monsignor asked John Justice (who was a big band trumpet player, later an ordained deacon – recently passed away) to form and lead a Christmas and Easter choir in the chapel loft. There were, maybe, a dozen singers. I was the accompanist. We rehearsed on Sunday evenings. In the following season, circa 1977, Monsignor hired the music teacher at Mount De Sales HS, Jim McVey, a young Juilliard graduate (fine baritone), native of Iowa, to lead a full season choir. We still have some music in our library from Jim McVey’s time. We sang from the loft – no robes (they came in when the ‘new church’ opened in 1980). I continued to be the accompanist.

During Jim McVey’s tenure, we began the first set of concerts with small orchestral accompaniment. The first (not actually a concert) was a performance at a liturgy of the Haydn Missa Brevis of St John of God (with strings) – it’s still in our library. Thereafter, there were Christmas and sometimes Spring concerts – I remember the Mozart “Little Sparrow” Mass (in the chapel), (and in the ‘new church’) the Britten Ceremony of Carols, the Saint Saens Christmas Oratorio, Part I of Messiah (1981), Buxtehude (1983), and last, in 1984, the Mozart Requiem. I still have – somewhere – a recording of the Saint Saens; it was dreadful.

The new church opened in 1980. The acoustics were terrible. There was no choir loft – we sang from the steps of the altar platform, and later, as the choir grew, from risers which we had to put up and take down every week in the same place. Robes were initiated – orange, with the gold collars that are still with us. We sat off to the side behind the organ pit (it was a two manual Rodgers church organ, sunk into the floor). During Jim’s tenure, we would process in and out with the altar party – there were two anthems, no choral prelude. There was a small choir room – for assembly, robing, and music storage only – too small for rehearsal (took place in the church).

In Spring 1984, shortly before the Mozart Requiem, Jim McVey announced he was leaving to enter the seminary (don’t know if he ever finished). Monsignor decided to ask a priest colleague of his who liked to sing, to take over the choir – now numbering in the twenties. He was a nice man, but completely unqualified. There was a revolt, and people were threatening to quit or actually did quit. Two of us met with Monsignor, who agreed to replace Father ? (Carolyn probably remembers his name), so long as I delivered the news to him, and the choir itself conducted the recruitment process for the next director. Done. After an uncomfortable lunch with the soon-to-be-departed and a consequent couple of months search, Fred Strub, one of our tenors who worked at NSA, suggested an NSA colleague, Fred Beaudoin, a Boston Conservatory grad, who had  conducted choirs in the past in the UK and elsewhere. Fred auditioned (“Ye Followers of the Lamb”) and we were off with a new director in February 1985. Bill O’Loughlin joined the choir at this time; Holly Lash in 1987. Joanne and Maura joined then, or shortly thereafter (I have a team picture from December 1989). Fred retired in Spring 2007.

Highlights of Fred’s tenure: the 50th anniversary of the Glenmary Home Missioners (founded at St Louis in Clarksville by Fr. Howard Bishop) in 1988 (have a cassette – not bad); the choir was chosen by Cardinal Keeler to sing the Archdiocesan pilgrimage mass at the National Shrine.

At the end of December 1989, having accepted a job in St Louis, Missouri and moved there, I left the choir. I continued to write music for the choir while living in St Louis (I had begun writing in 1984), and the choir continued to grow. It eventually peaked at about 42 members. After several candidates had proved unacceptable, Fred hired Phares Steiner, an older organ builder, as the organist, and Phares continued into the early 2000’s (I think) until he retired. We then had Jenny (from Peru), and then Hye-Ji Hwang (delightful), and finally in 2009, Larissa Sanders (yay!). I returned to the DC area in 1995 (new job) and rejoined the choir, this time as a singer, and occasional fill-in accompanist.

At the outset of his tenure, Fred decided not to continue with the concerts which Jim McVey had begun. When the current series was proposed in 2006, Fred said that he was not interested in running it or in doing major choral works – he conducted a couple of pieces at the first one (we had done them at the current church’s dedication) and some carols at the first Christmas concert. He left it to Donna Douglass and me to arrange the programs and artists. We used various vocal and instrumental artists initially, as well as the Concert Artists of Baltimore for the first two Spring Concerts. After Fred retired, we persuaded Monsignor Luca (who came to STL in late 95 after Monsignor Sauerwein retired after 27 years) to create the position of parish Director of Music. During the recruitment process, we made it clear to Paul, his successor, that running the concert series was part of the music director’s job – and he enthusiastically agreed.

Hope this is helpful. JD