Long-time Vermont conductor James Chapman passed away on February 8, 2011. A brief obituary appeared in the Burlington Free Press on February 9. According to the paper, a complete obituary will appear later this spring with an announcement of a memorial gathering and celebration of Jim’s life.
An article appeared in the Free Press on February 10: UVM conductor, music professor Chapman dies.
Below are reflections and remembrances from Vermont American Choral Directors Association President Frank Whitcomb and others.
February 9, 2011
I suspect that by now many of you have heard the sad news that Dr. James G. Chapman passed away yesterday morning at the Vermont Respite House in Williston. Indeed, many of us studied, performed, rehearsed, laughed, danced and shared many experiences with this most wonderful and gracious human being, and I for one feel a sense of loss and deep sadness at his passing.
I feel that a few words might be in order here, although many others could surely more completely fill out a life experience outline with “Jim.” I understand that tomorrows newspaper will have a complete obituary which we can all read. I first came to Burlington in 1978 (?), and Jim was one of the first professors that I took classes from in my short year completion of my undergraduate degree. But I remember him, tall and lean and thin, with abounding energy and limitless enthusiasm for the profession he represented. His knowledge of music history was extraordinary, his theory the same, and his ear was infallible. His ability to rehearse a choral ensemble with no piano and just a pitch pipe were legendary, and his ability to find the inner meaning of the literature he was rehearsing and performing was uncanny in his best years.
We all know that Jim founded the University of Vermont Choral Union, and it is my understanding that for many years this was “THE” choral ensemble to which all singers aspired to belong; the history of this ensemble was known throughout the state and beyond, and the list of music performed by this chorus was extensive and impressive. This was due largely in part to the extreme commitment of its’ founder and his insistence on pitch and note accuracy, rhythmic integrity, outstanding attention to intonation and an unrelenting work ethic on the podium that at all times was striving for perfection.
During the years I was in the University of Vermont Choral Union I was exposed to music of the highest quality and the most masterful of construction. I do not really know how to thank this man for what he did for me and many others through our work with him in the Choral Union; his attention, his mentoring, the discussions about music and music education, and a multitude of other topics too numerous to mention here. The exposure to a wealth of a cappella choral literature has been invaluable to me, but the Choral Union, years ago, was not known for JUST the music of this genre. Mozart’s “Requiem,” Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” Mozart’s “Masses” and other extended works. The Bruckner “Motets,” the Durufle “Motets,” The Poulenc “Motets,” the Poulenc “Gloria'” the Bach “Motets,” Beethoven’s “9th Symphony,” the music of Palestrina, Dello Joio, Schumann, Ockeghem, Byrd, Gabrieli, Pinkham, Josquin, Morley and a multitude of single works by others! Without Jim attending to the matters of this community’s “taste” in choral music we might not have the kind of flourishing choral activity in this area that we have today. He was, indeed, a kind of pioneer in this respect. I remember, in particular, many inspiring performances of Randall Thompson’s “Peaceable Kingdom,” a work he seemed to love, stating that he thought it was one of the 20th centuries best a cappella compositions.
I also remember Jim as an organist, and in his best years he was quite extraordinary. I heard him play quite a bit in my early years in Burlington and found his playing informed and exciting. His involvement in the early years of the Mozart Festival were extremely important in the evolution of that Festival, and his nurturing of many of the solo voices that we recognize today and call on for our performances is well known. The Choral Union “dinners” during the Christmas season were extremely popular…what great fun those dinners were!
No need to go on, as I am sure you see and maybe already know about this impressive man. But maybe a few personal notes to end this? I have some great memories of Jim….I remember him rehearsing the Choral Union at St. Paul’s where he simply could NOT get the choir to do what he heard in his head. He was frustrated and simply let go with a barrage, and than had us all take a break while he stepped outside and smoked a pack of cigarettes (an exaggeration of sorts)!!! We all reassembled, and with no explanation or apology we continued rehearsal, on the same piece! We KNEW he felt badly, but we also sensed his intense commitment to the music and to the ensemble. Nothing needed to be said….we just understood. I also remember being astounded at an after concert get together somewhere, when he did the polka like no one I have ever seen!! What a pleasure to see this man, who was passionate beyond belief about his classical music making, to get up and dance the polka with the same enthusiasm and commitment and energy! I cherish that moment very much! I remember a private conversation with him where he let down his guard a little and told me that “if one could just get the notes right, and follow this wishes of the composer as expressed in the written music, that the meaning of the music would virtually jump off the page!” I have always remembered that………
I remember a loving, kind, compassionate man, at times graceful and elegant, modest and supportive of others efforts. Jim Chapman was, in retrospect, a good man. What greater compliment could one pay another?
Please feel free to share your thoughts over the next few days on this forum; it would be a wonderful thing to hear others thoughts and a great testament to Jim.