SCHWARTZHOFF’S SWAN SONG: Longtime Choral Director to Retire Baton
Dr. Gary Schwartzhoff will direct Master Singers for final time March 12
Luc Anthony, photos by Andrea Paulseth |
An era of Chippewa Valley music is about to come to a conclusion. Dr. Gary Schwartzhoff, previously director of choral activities at UW-Eau Claire for a quarter century, is now retiring from his other primary choir: The Master Singers. When the ensemble’s spring concert concludes on the afternoon of Sunday, March 12, the baton will be passed to a new conductor for the first time in the group’s history.
Growing up in rural northeast Iowa, Schwartzhoff was inspired to lead choirs by his Waukon High School choir director, Al Leathers, and the director of choral activities at the University of Iowa, Daniel Moe. After working in several locations, he became a Charles City (Iowa) High School teacher. While there, he lived near a woman named Gladys Antle – who was soon to marry legendary UW-Eau Claire choir director Morris Hayes. Says Schwartzhoff, “I knew of the quality associated with the UW-Eau Claire Choral Program as early as the early 1980s hearing The Singing Statesmen perform at a National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association.”
This combined ensemble has enabled the orchestral community to call upon this choral union to perform many classical works at a high artistic level.
DR. GARY SCHWARTZHOFF
ON CONCERTS THAT HAVE COMBINED THE UWEC CONCERT CHOIR AND THE MASTER SINGERS
With an opening at the university – sometimes called “Wisconsin’s Singing University” – in 1991, he was hired as Director of Choral Activities. “After arriving in Eau Claire,” he said, “I reached out to community members in regard to forming a community ensemble that was to be named The Master Singers in 1992.”
If you have sung in a local college or adult choir over the past three decades, there is a decent chance Dr. Schwartzhoff was your director at some point. He led UW-Eau Claire’s Concert Choir, Singing Statesmen, and Chamber Choir; The Master Singers; and the Chancel Choir at First Congregational UCC. He notes all the ways the singing environment has grown in the area since he arrived “The choral scene has many opportunities for choral singers to participate,” he said. “UW-Eau Claire continues to educate musicians who following graduation perform in these ensembles in Eau Claire and across the Midwest.”
Working with numerous choirs have opened paths for musical collaboration, with some events mixing Concert Choir and The Master Singers. “This combined ensemble has enabled the orchestral community to call upon this choral union to perform many classical works at a high artistic level,” he said.
There are paths he has taken, as well, by leading The Master Singers. He notes that the choir “has enabled the opportunity to perform in concerts in the Eau Claire and Minneapolis areas over the past 30 years. In addition, The Master Singers have performed at choral festivals in Chicago and the Washington, D.C., area and on international tours including Italy, France, and Great Britain.”
Alas, after 52 years of choral music involvement for him and his wife, Nancy, full retirement has finally beckoned. “It is time for us to step away from this expression and enjoy time for travel during our golden years,” he said.
With a rich history of musical experiences – from choral conventions to national festivals to international tours – one wonders his most-cherished moment from his career. As Dr. Schwartzhoff notes, “Selecting a favorite performance over my career in Eau Claire is much like asking a parent to identify their favorite child.”
If one memory is most prominent, it is the Master Singers/Concert Choir participation in a 2013 Washington, D.C., choral festival at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts marking the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s passing.“(It) will always hold a special place in my career.,” Schwartzhoff said. “I have always been interested in the Kennedy family and their political journey.”
It is a choral life well-led.
The Master Singers’ spring concert, “Choral Images 2023: The Lord is My Shepherd,” will be held at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 310 Broadway St., Eau Claire, at 2pm Sunday, March 12. As the conclusion of the 30th season of The Master Singers, anyone who has previously sung in the ensemble is invited to attend and sing along with the last piece. Ticket information can be found at themastersingers.net.