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A History of the American Choral Directors Association in the state of Washington

Compiled by Howard Meharg


The national ACDA was founded in 1959. By 1961, state chairmen (as they were called then), were recruited. The founders of ACDA believed that the organization would be benefited by a grassroots effort at that level rather than starting with regional leadership.


Washington’s first state chairman was Bernard Regier who was Director of Choral Activities at Bellingham’s Western Washington College of Education, later WWU. As might be expected, Regier’s primary role was that of a recruiter of members. A good many of the early members of WA-ACDA got a call from Regier…especially graduates from WWCE…saying, “You need to be involved in this organization. It’ll be good for your career!”


One of the early requirements for membership was to be sponsored by a current member. Regier no doubt sponsored a good many new members in his role as state chairman.


Bernard held office from 1961 to 1963. Regional leaders were appointed quickly, however. The September, 1962, issue of The Choral Journal, shows a photo of Regier along with Lee Kjelson, California, and Robert McCowen, Iowa, under a page header, “REGIONAL CHAIRMEN,” and noting “We are particularly proud and happy to welcome Bernard as our Northwestern Chairman and predict that the coming years will bring a strong choral directors organization in that area. His fine musical accomplishments and pleasing personality make his choice an excellent one for ACDA.” So, it appears that Bernard Regier served in dual ACDA roles for a period of time, state as well as regional chairperson.


Ellensburg’s Coyne Burnett was one of WA-ACDA’s early leaders. Coyne had the longest term of office, chairing the state from 1963 to 1968. He was a tireless advocate for music in the schools and for choral music. He directed choirs at Ellensburg High School and also served as editor of “VOICE,” the Washington Music Educators Association magazine, for some twenty years.


Close connection to the music educator’s organization

A very lengthy article (“ACDA’s Forty-Year Journey”) appeared in the September, 1999, issue of The Choral Journal. The article was written by Russell Mathis, president of the national ACDA in 1974-77. Russell provides a well-documented history of the national organization beginning with meetings in 1959 of J. Clark Rhodes, Elwood Keister, Curt Hanson, Harry Robert Wilson, Wayne Hugoboom, Archie Jones, and Warner Imig. He notes that ACDA was closely connected to MENC in its early years.


But twelve years later in 1971, Charles Hirt (USC) wrote, “ACDA will maintain the affiliation with MENC but will no longer use the MENC convention as the mother ship to carry us aloft.” This was the beginning of the first national convention apart from MENC. It was held in Kansas City. Sixteen hundred choral directors attended.


Washington state also had close ties to the WMEA in the early years of ACDA. WMEA’s “Voice” magazine had an article in the “Conference Edition” of 1965 with a headline “ACDA to Convene in Portland.” National president, J. Clark Rhodes, was a headliner, along with Jester Hairston, who conducted his arrangements of spirituals with Robert Robins’ Roseburg, Oregon High School Choir. ACDA functions were a part of the Northwest MENC convention.


The association with WMEA continued for many years. The program for the WMEA convention held in Yakima in 1970 shows a Thursday evening dinner meeting of the WA-ACDA chaired by Howard Meharg, state chairman. Close ties were maintained with the WMEA throughout the 70’s and early 80’s.


Despite the close ties at the state level, the MENC and ACDA had some evidence of a strained relationship. Russell Mathis’ article said, “For several years before the actual break from MENC, ACDA presidents took a good deal of flack from MENC officers. Both Harold Decker and Theron Kirk were recipients of unpleasant remarks and threats. Harold Decker said, ‘At the Seattle ACDA-MENC convention our guest speaker, Daniel Pinkham was not allowed to enter the meeting unless he produced an MENC membership card!”


Theron Kirk is quoted as saying, “The main thing that happened during the time when I was president wasn’t a goal of mine at all. That was when we had to bring about the change in convention, just prior to the MENC convention, to an independent and completely disassociated convention in respect to time and place.”


Following the lead of the national office, the NW division of ACDA broke its connection to MENC and held a convention in Spokane on February 23-24, 1973. Performing groups from the state included the Washington State University Madrigal Singers directed by Frank Green, the Shoreline Community College Choir, Bob Metzger, director, Walla Walla High School vocalists, directed by Dick Clark, Shorecrest High School Orcadian Choir directed by Neil Lieurance, and Kirchenchor from First Lutheran Church of Richmond Beach, Seattle, Betty Jean Bartholomew, Director. It is of some interest that WMEA’s “Voice” magazine carried a multi-page coverage of the event. No doubt we can thank Coyne Burnett for that.


In states with 20 or more members, chairpersons for the state were elected through a ballot provided in “The Choral Journal.” Candidates, presumably chosen by divisional leadership, were listed and the voter clipped the ballot from the magazine and mailed it to the national office in Tampa, Florida. A 1966 May/June issue of “The Choral Journal” lists Coyne Burnett, Ellensburg, and Mildred Forsling, Yakima, as candidates for this state.


C. Jerome Semrau was elected chairman for the state in 1968. He resigned in the middle of his term and Howard Meharg was appointed by NW chairman, Rod Eichenberger, to pick up the remainder of that term until 1970.


Chairpeople during the decade of the 70’s included Wallace Goleeke, Gerry Loper, and Robert Metzger. Each of these leaders were from the Seattle area and worked on the merger of the PSCCG and ACDA. Both Loper and Metzger served two terms.


Connection with/potential conflict with Puget Sound Choral Conductors Guild

In the state of Washington there was also potential conflict with ACDA from a choral directors group in the Seattle area called The Puget Sound Choral Conductors Guild. The PSCCG had been a strong and viable force for the promotion of choral music in that region since 1957…an older group, actually, than the ACDA. It took diplomacy and thoughtful decision making over a period of nearly twenty years before the PSCCG finally rather fully merged into ACDA.


Letters between ACDA national president, Walter Collins, and presidents of both the WA-ACDA and the PSCCG indicate the serious concerns of both groups. A letter from Collins addressed to Neil Lieurance, President of the Guild, and to Robert Metzger, WA ACDA president, and dated October 12, 1978 noted: “If this unique situation were only a matter of organizational lack of neatness, no one would be especially concerned. But it appears to the officers of ACDA that the situation is seriously hampering the development of a state-wide ACDA organization commensurate with Washington’s potential and with other states in ACDA’s Northwest Division.”


Collins went on to say (to Lieurance and Metzger), “I would be very grateful if the two of you would continue your discussions with vigor and would hope that you could propose a solution by the end of the year.” As one might guess, finances entered the picture. Collins went on to comment, “You may be able to devise a method that would allow PSCCG still to keep its identity in some way and perhaps to receive for a limited period the same guaranteed financial support from ACDA which it presently enjoys.” He then offered to travel to Seattle to discuss the situation in person.


(One should not forget how important the Puget Sound Choral Conductors Guild was to so many of its members. The group especially served church choir directors and one of its organizers in 1956 was the well-respected Carlyle Kelley, then Minister of Music at the First United Methodist Church in Seattle. Kelley and Dr. Charles Fisher of the University of Puget Sound were organizers and the first two presidents of the group. This note was taken from a March, 1982 newsletter with both the ACDA and the PSCCG logos on it: “Although the P.S.C.C.G. has always been directed to the service of choral music in all its forms, the needs of the church choir, and particularly of the smaller choirs, have been prominent in its priorities. In 1969 we elected to become a part of the newer American Choral Directors Association, with the understanding that we would maintain our organizational integrity and our basic principles.”)


Two weeks later (October 31, 1978), Neil Lieurance wrote a thoughtful reply to Collins. He addressed the concerns of some PSCCG members that they would be “placed in a situation of paying ‘double’ dues with an interest in only local activities,” and that “the concentrated population of the Puget Sound area may be placed in position of ‘supporting’ the whole state…” He further informed Collins that “some were against the move to affiliate in the first place and would feel exploited by forced membership in the national organization.”


Neil’s letter made it clear, however, that many PSCCG members were in full support of ACDA and with merging the two groups. Walter Collins wrote back on November 8 to say he was happy that solutions were being developed and that he would, indeed, be delighted to come to Seattle for further discussions. Collins visited Seattle December 16, 1978.


Nineteen-seventy-nine became a pivotal year in the relationship between PSCCG and ACDA. Numerous directions were proposed and discussed in a PSCCG board meeting on February 6, 1979. A rough draft of a tentative proposal was sent to Collins in April. He replied, “I am sending copies of your proposal to the Executive Committee and they may feel that it will be necessary to discuss it with the Board when they next gather in June.”


On June 25, Lieurance received a letter from Walter Collins saying the ACDA Executive Committee was “in general agreement…” and that there would be “the expectation that by July 1, 1982, the PSCCG district of Washington ACDA will come fully under the same ACDA guidelines, practices, and policies that govern other districts and states in the Association.”


Delores Anderson took over as president of the PSCCG in mid-1979. She wrote to Collins in November, following a fall meeting of the group, that the “Puget Sound Choral Conductor’s Guild will align ourselves with the Washington State ACDA organization, becoming one of the districts within the state of Washington, and retaining the name ‘Puget Sound Choral Conductor’s Guild’ for that district.” The motion passed by a vote of 49-2.


Collins' reply was brief, but had a tone of relief. He said, “I say we look forward to revitalized choral activity in Washington and the Puget Sound area through cooperation among all of us who so strongly wish it to thrive for the benefit of the choral profession.” Finally, in a letter to Delores in December, Collins reminded her that Colleen Kirk, the ACDA President-Elect, would handle details of “our new relationship.” He summed it up by thanking Delores (and the PSCCG) “for your farsightedness in dealing with the future of choral music in your state.” It was well into the decade of the 80’s before the PSCCG finally faded as an organization and merged fully into WA ACDA.


For many decades choral directors depended on colleges and universities, larger churches, and the music retailers for workshops and reading sessions. Direct mail from these groups or articles in professional publications such as "Voice" of Washington Music Educators provided information. One of the well attended reading sessions was held mid-summer at Central Washington University and led by Dr. Wayne Hertz. For years Johnson-West Music of Seattle provided the reading materials. Later Sampson-Ayers of Spokane hauled the van-loads of titles, most often supplied by publishers as samples, for reading.


The "Voice" magazine ran an article in the May, 1980, issue announcing a July 24-27 festival in choral music for the church. Ronald Kuhn of the University Congregational Church of Seattle sponsored the event that featured Dr. Lloyd Pfautsch, director of music at Southern Methodist University and a leader in national ACDA circles as well as a well known choral composer. The four-day event ended with a performance of Beethoven's Mass in C, conducted by Pfautsh.


In the same issue, Dale Barker, owner of Sheet Music Service of Portland, announced that Dr. Charles Hirt would lead a September workshop in Portland.


Into the 80’s

The Northwest Division of ACDA held its conference March 6-8, 1980, in Spokane at the historic Davenport Hotel. Washington’s Maurice Skones directed a choir of quartets from northwest colleges. Taped auditions were used for selecting performing groups. Those from Washington were the Northwest Chamber Chorus of Seattle directed by Joan Catoni-Conlon; the Shoreline College Jazz group directed by Bruce Spitz; Soundsation 80 Vocal Jazz Ensemble, directly by Frank DeMiero; Renton High School’s A Cappella Choir, Richard Houser, director; Washington State University Concert Choir, Dr. Frank Green director; the Chamber Chorale from Seattle directed by Robert Metzger; and the Knox Bell Ringers and Sanctuary Choir from Knox Presbyterian Church, Spokane, directed by Blanche Kangas.


State leadership during the 80’s included Gordon Leavitt, Ellensburg, Judy Kuhn (now Filibeck), Seattle, Rush Chase, Seattle, Bob Cathey, Seattle, and Paul Schultz, Tacoma. Schultz, who moved in 1982 from Michigan to direct the Adelphians, the University of Puget Sound’s premiere choir, quickly became a vital ACDA leader. Both he, and another Michigan transplant, Judy Burns, who directed choral groups at Central Washington University for several years before returning to Michigan, brought ideas and enthusiasm for ACDA, and demonstrated excellence in their own choral work that was an inspiration for all WA-ACDA members.


A sentence in an article in "Voice" (WMEA's magazine) about the national ACDA convention in New Orleans March 5-7, 1981 spoke of performing choirs at that convention. Along with a choir from Missouri and Princeton, New Jersey it added "and the Shorecrest High School "Chanson," a chamber choir from Seattle. That, of course, was directed by WA-ACDA's Neil Lieurance.


Rush Chase noted in a November 1983 newsletter article that the state had 234 members. Rush, coming out of the PSCCG, now calling itself the western division for Washington state, proposed that, since the membership was divided by the Cascade mountains, that members east of that divide call themselves the “Inland Empire Choral Conductors’ Guild.” The idea apparently didn’t gain much traction.


That same newsletter featured an article by Scott Peterson of Yakima Valley Community College…one of the first mentions in print of this superb leader who became (2007) the president of the NW Division.


The PSCCG was by no means inactive. Bob Cathey, Julie Anderson, and Mimi Mosbaugh worked with WMEA in featuring a fall workshop with one of ACDA’s founders, Dr. Charles Hirt (USC), clinician…this at Seattle Pacific University in October of 1983.


The next month, CWU brought in still another famous name, internationally known Howard Swan (Occidental College, LA area). This was held Saturday, November 5 in the Hertz Recital Hall. Some directors will remember that session. At that time Swan had suffered some sort of paralysis to his vocal cords and could speak only in a rather high pitched sound. (Some years later he recovered full use of his voice.) Full use of his voice or not, attendees of that session still remember the inspiration of this man, another “spiritual” founder of ACDA.


At a WMEA conference in 1984 at Renton High School, the WA ACDA board met on Saturday afternoon, February 18, prior to the evening ACDA banquet. The main topic of that meeting was the beginning planning for a state convention for 1985. Rush Chase was president, but Bob Cathey, president-elect, and Paul Schultz (president-elect for Cathey) were each a part of the planning for that event.


Cathey noted in a newsletter just weeks before the state convention, “I believe that Washington ACDA is entering its most exciting year since the organization was founded!”


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Washington ACDA - A Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association
Brian Mitchell, WA ACDA President