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Eminent American conductor and composer Dale Warland was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa on April 14, 1932. He has made an indelible impression on the landscape of contemporary choral music throughout the world. According to him, his first musical inspiration came when listening to his church choir at a young age. During his school days he held a position as a church organist; his school music lessons also served to put him in close contact with the world of music. Following in the footsteps of his church choir director, he enrolled at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, in the fall of 1950. Here he quickly settled into his life’s work—rehearsing and performing with choirs.
After graduating from St. Olaf in 1954, Warland spent two years in the Air Force. While stationed at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois, he started a choir with fellow servicemen. The choir quickly became quite popular and was invited to perform at a banquet attended by then-Vice President Richard Nixon. After the Air Force, he pursued graduate work at the University of Minnesota, graduating with a Master of Arts in theory and composition in 1960. In 1965, he earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in choral conducting from the University of Southern California. After serving as director of choral music at Humboldt State College in Arcata, California and at Keuka College in Keuka Park, New York, he took a position as professor of music and director of choral activities at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota (1967-1985).
News of his exceptional choral conducting skills spread and, in 1972, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis asked him to assemble a group of singers to present a concert of new music. Though his Macalester students were good singers, he knew that it would be a challenge for the young singers to deliver a full concert of such music. So he gathered together a group of forty community singers to present a concert on June 11, 1972. Thus, the Dale Warland Singers, a professional mixed chorus, was born.
The Dale Warland Singers has commissioned 270 choral works, presented more than 400 concerts and produced 27 highly acclaimed recordings in the 32 years of its existence. More than 150 notable composers have worked with the Dale Warland Singers, including Grammy winners Dominick Argento, Libby Larsen, Stephen Paulus, Carol Barnett, Aaron Jay Kernis, George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, Peter Schickele, Alice Parker, Kirke Mechem, Mary Ellen Childs, Augusta Read Thomas, Janika Vandervelde, Bernard Rands, Emma Lou Diemer, Brent Michael Davids, Frank Ferko and Eric Whitacre. The Dale Warland Singers’ Choral Venture program encouraged works by emerging composers, awarding commissions to over fifty talented composers.
In addition to an annual subscription season in the Twin Cities, the Dale Warland Singers toured throughout the United States and abroad. In 1990, the group traveled to Stockholm and Helsinki to represent North America at the Second World Symposium on Choral Music. In 2002, the Dale Warland Singers made its debut at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago and performed at the American Harp Society National Conference and at the Sixth World Symposium on Choral Music, both held in the Twin Cities. The ensemble also appeared on Garrison Keillor’s original A Prairie Home Companion radio program and performed regularly on Public Radio International’s Saint Paul Sunday. Its annual “Echoes of Christmas” and “Cathedral Classics” broadcasts reached 1.5 million listeners across the United States.
The Dale Warland Singers collaborated with many Twin Cities organizations including the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies and the James Sewell Ballet. The choir also worked under the baton of the late Robert Shaw, Leonard Slatkin, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Neville Mariner, Edo de Waart, Hugh Wolff, Bobby McFerrin, David Zinman, Roger Norrington and James Conlon.
In 1992 the Dale Warland Singers became the first recipient of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ Margaret Hillis Achievement Award for choral excellence. The group’s extraordinary efforts on behalf of composers and new music resulted in ASCAP awards for Adventurous Programming in 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1999. In 2003, the group’s compact disc Walden Pond (Gothic: G 49217) was nominated to the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences for a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance. Other awards include the prestigious ASCAP Victor Herbert Award (2003), the Distinguished Master Artists Award from the University of South Florida (2004), the Sally Ordway Irvine Award for Vision (2003) and many others.
Following the conductor’s decision to retire, the Dale Warland Singers performed their final concert on May 30, 2004.
Text by Nilanjana Kundu and Mark Palkovic