Perfect Pitch: Loss of a Choral Giant

by patrickmccoy

Final Bow:  The death of Choral Arts founder Norman Scribner hits the music community hard.

By Patrick D. McCoy

Founding conductor of the Choral Arts Society of Washington, Norman Scribner died peacefully at his home on Sunday, March 22. (Photo Credit:  Choral Arts)

Founding conductor of the Choral Arts Society of Washington, Norman Scribner died peacefully at his home on Sunday, March 22. (Photo courtesy Choral Arts)

The Washington choral music scene has been stunned into mourning after learning of the unexpected death of Maestro Norman Scribner. Scribner,the founding artistic director of the Choral Arts Society of Washington, died on March 22 at his home.

“We are deeply saddened to confirm that Norman Scribner, the Choral Arts Society of Washington’s founder and artistic director emeritus, passed peacefully and unexpectedly at his home,” said Choral Arts Executive Director Debra Kraft in a brief statement. Scribner led his last Kennedy Center performance as the choir’s conductor in a stunning 2012 performance of Brahms’ “A German Requiem.” In a divine twist of fate, Choral Arts had already programmed that very work to open its 2015-16 concert season. Scribner’s many years of artistic excellence were marked by several tributes, including the 2012 gala concert at Washington National Cathedral, where he passed his baton to current director Scott Tucker after 47 years at the helm.

Perhaps one of the most profound hallmarks of his choral legacy and footprint on the Washington choral scene is the annual Choral Arts MLK Tribute at The Kennedy Center. Since its inception, the event has continued to bring a diverse audience to the concert hall, honoring unity through music. A few years ago I asked him about his inspiration for creating such a concert in honor of the slain Civil Rights leader:

“Choral Arts was three years old when King was killed…it made me so anguished and sad,” said Scribner. “I felt really distraught about it and it had a very strong emotional impact on me. I believe that God loves everyone equally.”

Even though he was retired, Scribner kept an active social schedule. He continued to support and attend the efforts of Choral Arts. I caught up with him at this year’s MLK Choral Tribute appearing  and he appeared to be in good spirits, as he was his usual friendly and hospitable self.

Scribner enjoyed many crowning moments in his career. He prepared choruses for some of the best-of-the-best acclaimed conductors. Among them was the late Leonard Bernstein, for which Scribner prepared an all-professional chorus for the performance of Bernstein’s “Mass” for the opening of The Kennedy Center. Aside from conducting Choral Arts at The Kennedy Center, Scribner also maintained his regard for music as a higher calling. For many years, he served as organist/choirmaster at St. Alban’s Church, just on the close of Washington National Cathedral.

Maestro Scribner has now taken his final bow, but his major contributions to the musical world continue to flourish in his handiwork and nurture of his beloved Choral Arts Society of Washington.

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Viewings for Norman Scribner will be held at Joseph Gawler’s Sons funeral home located at 5130 Wisconsin Ave NW, on Thursday, March 26 from 2-4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. The funeral service will be held at Washington National Cathedral on Thursday, April 9 at 10:30 a.m.

After earning degrees in music from Virginia State University and Shenandoah University, Patrick D.

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McCoy has contributed arts pieces to CBS Washington and The Afro-American Newspaper, among others.  He also writes the magazine’s monthly performing arts column “Perfect Pitch.”  McCoy may be reached via email at wlperformingarts@aol.

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com and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.

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