How many professors celebrate their retirement from the university by giving a public concert that fills a large downtown church? I think Sunday afternoon’s concert in Gower Street United Church, entitled “Thank you, Dr. Dunsmore,” was a first. Douglas Dunsmore, professor of music, put on a splendid, two-hour show for friends and family, young and old, from far and near.
It began with the Memorial University of Newfoundland Chamber Choir singing a capella from the high second balcony at the back of the church.
Busy in retirement
That was followed by laudatory remarks by Dr. Ellen Waterman, dean of Memorial’s school of music, who announced that Dunsmore has been appointed the inaugural director of the Bruneau Centre for Excellence in Choral Music, thereby bringing the number of jobs he has back up to four, since he will continue as choirmaster at Gower Street United Church, as conductor of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra’s Philharmonic Choir, and as artistic director of Festival 500: Sharing the Voices, which he co-founded. He will not be bored.
The show moved on quickly with singers from MUN’s Festival Choir performing in the choir loft and from the front sections of the balconies on both sides of the church. Gower Street United is St. John’s answer to Toronto’s Massey Hall, and in the course of the concert Dunsmore had the singers and musicians assume changing positions on three different levels and all around the corridor of the large first balcony. He was sometimes facing the choir loft, sometimes facing the audience. There wasn’t a dull moment. When the choir performed Kirby Shaw’s arrangement of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Dunsmore had the audience clapping along on the off-beat.
While this was not a one-man show — as Dunsmore wittily remarked, “There is no choral music for unaccompanied conductor” — there was no denying that Dunsmore was the prime mover, and so it seemed fitting he was also the MC, saying just enough to heighten our appreciation of what we heard and saw.
Sampling his career
The works he chose spanned his whole career. The Chamber Choir sang C.V. Stanford’s “The Blue Bird,” a piece Dunsmore conducted the first year he was here. He likes the song. It’s slow and dreamy.
At MUN, Dunsmore developed a graduate program in choral conducting, and in mid-program on Sunday he stepped aside to let two of his students conduct a piece each: alumnus Chad Stride; and current student Leah Antle. Antle just about stole the show when she conducted the Chamber Choir in Thomas Morley’s lively “Now is The Month of Maying,” taking it at a good clip, with the choir singing most precisely with perfect enunciation. It looked easy. Antle got maximum effect with minimum gestures. Such promising young conductors are Doug Dunsmore’s legacy. As Ellen Waterman said, he has mentored literally thousands of students.
Part of Dunsmore’s magnetism is his enthusiasm for trying new things, in which he usually succeeds. In Sunday’s concert he had the Chamber Choir perform a percussive song in Finnish! An English translation was provided.
The large voluntary turnout from the Alumni Festival Choir was a great tribute to Dunsmore’s continuing work in the community. I know people who are inspired by every practice. One member of the choir, Sarah Rose, who currently teaches in MUN’s Department of Linguistics, chose this opportunity to donate her mother’s magnificent 1972 Steinway baby grand piano to Gower Street United Church. Sarah is about to relocate to British Columbia, and wanted to leave her beautiful piano here “in appreciation for all the music that Newfoundland has given her.” Its mellifluous tones as Timothy Brennan accompanied the Alumni Choir in “The Road Not Taken” held the promise of wonderful piano concerts to come.
Shifting his energy
Before the rousing final piece, — John Rutter’s “Gloria,” with the MUN Brass Ensemble and Ki Adams on the organ — Susan Knight, Chancellor of Memorial University, choral director, and longtime friend and colleague of Dunsmore, said that in retiring he is just shifting his energy, and we are the richer for it. She praised him as a teacher, administrator, and organizer who has given all of himself all of the time, who has poured the energy of his life into making things happen. Knight compared Dunsmore to Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” quoting the lines:
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
Dunsmore certainly shines in use!
I think everyone in the audience was there because Dunsmore’s work as a choral conductor has touched them in some way. I have my own memory. As I heard Knight mention his compassion for those who are ill, my mind went back to a stormy Friday, Oct. 27, 2000, when Dunsmore took the MUN Chamber Choir and the Philharmonic Choir of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra to Bell Island at very short notice to join the St. Michael’s Church Choir there in the moving Celebration of the Life of Charles Joseph Bown, a former student who died at the age of 37.
Thank you, Dr. Dunsmore.