choral director

Austin’s music background, choral program directors shaped by teacher’s passion

Celebrated UT choral director Morris Beachy died in his sleep Feb. 3 due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease at 82. Beachy’s prolific career began in 1947 when he came to UT to teach and finish his doctorate in choral direction. Because he came at a time when Austin was still young, he was one of the first to lay the groundwork for the musical culture of Austin, beginning his first ensemble in 1957. He founded nine ensembles, including the Longhorn Singers, the UT Chamber Choir and the University Chorus, but his legacy extends beyond the choir room. “If you go back to that earlier generation of faculties, a lot of these people came from out of town,” said Doug Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “Austin was incredibly small back then, and if there was going to be any high-brow culture, they were going to have to invent it. They were people of giant capacity, and Morris Beachy was a large part of it. He turned Austin into a choir community town.” First and foremost, Beachy was a music educator, said John Dickson, dean of arts and music at Mercer University in Georgia. “Dr. Morris Beachy was my teacher, choral director, mentor and later, friend,” he said. “He inspired my love of language, my understanding of gesture, my tonal imagination and was, perhaps, the single most influential person who shaped the totality of my choral artistry.” But the two didn’t start out as friends. Beachy’s demand for excellence made him difficult for some to work with, but Dickson said the same demand eventually helped Dickson achieve success in his career as a musician and educator. It was this dedication to not only the instruction of music, but to the integrity of the music itself, that made Beachy such an influential mentor, said Jerry McCoy, director of choral studies at the University of North Texas and a former student of Beachy’s. “He never equivocated with mediocrity,” he said. “He stood for doing things right, long hours of study and putting your soul and spirit into the task at hand.” His former students also head choral programs all over the country including at SMU, UT, Rutgers, the University of Missouri in Kansas City and the University of Miami. Something in his teaching seems to have stuck. “Morris Beachy was a giant in his field and had a significant impact on choral music not only in Texas, but also throughout America because he trained so many choral conductors in his tradition,” said Glenn Chandler, director of the Butler School of Music. He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Frances Beachy, daughters Sylvia Beachy and Diana Rutledge and grandson Spencer Rutledge. Members of Austin’s Morris Beachy Singers will perform at his memorial at the Unity Church of the Hills at 2 p.m., Feb. 15. The church is at 9905 Anderson Mill Rd. in Austin. The Butler School of Music will hold a memorial for Beachy in the spring.