August 14, 2014
In an evening that combined choral classics with heartfelt tributes by
students and colleagues, professor Donald Neuen led his final concert June 7, 2014 as longtime director of choral conducting and choral studies
at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music. Standing before a packed Royce
Hall audience, Neuen, now officially retired at the age of 80, raised
his baton to lead hundreds of performers from three groups that have
benefited from his virtuosity — the UCLA Chorale, the L.A.-based Angeles
Chorale and the UCLA Philharmonia.
Over 200 voices and a full orchestra literally changed the shape of the concert hall that night!
The performance, respectfully titled "The Faith of Beethoven" was as follows:
Beethoven Choral Fantasia in C minor
C Major Mass
After the Fantasia, there is a personal and, at times humorous presentation made to Donald Neuen...
For Neuen, “The Faith of Beethoven: A Musical Journey of Hope”
concert marked 60 years as a conductor and 50 years as a university
teacher whose greatest wish was to impart his love for choral music to
In return, students expressed their gratitude by posting
online comments about their beloved professor.
“The man is amazing. One
of the best teachers I’ve had in my life. He really cares about the
students and how they learn and perform music.”
Wrote another, "There
are times he might lose his temper with the choir, but that is because
we are not doing our best. At the end of every class he always reminds
us how intelligent and wonderful we are."
The audience at Royce gave him their own tribute at the concert’s end
with a standing ovation and cheers that saw Neuen returning to the
stage four times before his final bow.
Recently, Neuen bared his own feelings to students crowded
into DeNeve Auditorium to hear him deliver “My Last Lecture.”
students vote for a professor who has had a profound impact on them.
The award, presented by the Alumni Scholars Club, comes with an
invitation to respond publicly to one question: “What would you tell
your audience if you had but one lecture to give?”
“Nothing … not even a concert at Carnegie Hall … comes close to being
honored by students. Nothing is more fulfilling to a teacher than the
admiration and love of students,” Neuen began before encouraging
students to seek perfection in their work and to always have a mentor to
Neuen shared some of these same ideas during his farewell concert at
Royce Hall, where he was presented with a plaque and a custom-made book
capturing the highlights of a life devoted to music.
presentation was Rebecca Lord, UCLA associate director of choral
activities, who earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in conducting
at UCLA. “Donald Neuen is my mentor,” said Lord tearfully.
Raised in what Neuen described as “the small, enormously musical,
Swiss-Mennonite community of Berne, Indiana,” he was mentored by choral
giants Robert Shaw and Roger Wagner. Author of a highly regarded
textbook entitled “Choral Concepts,” Neuen has been referred to as “the
great choral conductor of his generation” by musicologist Julius
Neuen's first teaching job was at a small high school in Indiana
where he took on a choir of 16 students whose first Christmas concert
was 11 minutes long and took place during halftime at a school
basketball game; the following year, 168 of the school's total 187
students tried out for the choir.
He went on to serve on the faculties
of the universities of Wisconsin, Tennessee, Ball State and Georgia
State as well as the Eastman School of Music before joining UCLA two
decades ago. Under his direction, the UCLA Chorale and the Angeles
Chorale have won lavish accolades.
The University of New Mexico’s John
Clark praised the UCLA Chorale as “the finest choir I’ve ever heard –
and that’s in comparison with the Robert Shaw Chorale, the L.A. Master
Chorale, and other professional and university choruses from around the
Neuen also led the 100-voice, L.A.-based Angeles Chorale — now under
the artistic direction of John Sutton — for 13 years, beginning in
1996. Renowned for its production of classical masterworks and
groundbreaking compositions, the chorale has performed with the Los
Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra, Long Beach Symphony, Pasadena Symphony and the American Youth
He has also conducted top professional, church and community choirs
and orchestras at such venues as Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, the Kennedy
Center in Washington, D.C, and New York's Carnegie Hall and Lincoln
Center. Since 1999 he has conducted, and he will continue to conduct,
the “Hour of Power”
choir with Shepherd’s Grove — formerly the Crystal Cathedral — which is
televised internationally every Sunday to an audience of more than 31
“I can’t imagine anything else in life that goes straight to your
soul than the sound of people singing,” Neuen told students during his
lecture at DeNeve Auditorium.