Schmidt conducting

Harold-ing Choral Splendor

The beloved Harold C. Schmidt assumes directorship over the Stanford University Choir. With Jane Stanford’s insistence, a student choir (originally called the Chapel Choir and later known as the Stanford Memorial Church Choir) had been formed shortly after the church first opened. As it developed over the years, choristers led vesper services, Sunday school, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. With the coming of Harvard-trained Schmidt, the Memorial Church Choir flourished and gave way to multiple choral groups. In the words of his colleagues, Schmidt was “gifted with an open, ebullient personality coupled with an abiding interest in the education of young people, he became the veritable Pied Piper of choral singing on campus as he organized and directed the Memorial Church Choir, the chamber group called the University Chorale, and the large ensemble known as the University Chorus.”

Moreover, Schmidt revised the graduate student curriculum by creating the Doctoral of Musical Arts program. He often collaborated with the Stanford Chamber Orchestra or Stanford Symphony Orchestra, then under the directorship of Sandor Salgo. From 1948-1973 Schmidt led the Symphonic Chorus, whose members often sang alongside the San Francisco Symphony to perform monumental works, e.g. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Missa Solemnis, Haydn’s Creation, Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, and Britten’s War Requiem. In reference to one of these concerts, the chief music critic of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: “The Stanford Chorus kept up Stanford’s record of supplying the Symphony with the best choruses in the Bay Area.”

Following his retirement in 1975, Schmidt kept himself occupied with musical engagements and publications. For instance, in 1991 he authored a historical account of the Stanford Music Department, entitled The Friends of Music and the Music Guild at Stanford University: A Personal Recollection. After his death, colleagues recalled personal memories of Schmidt’s singers: “Listening to the Stanford choral performances, one was always struck by the singers’ apparently total involvement in the work at hand and by their evident penetration of its essential substance and spirit. To them it was not just a formal presentation to an audience, but an enlivening, unique musical experience for the performers.”

Bio: Harold Schmidt – Director of the Memorial Church Choir, the University Chorale, and the Stanford Symphonic Chorus from 1947 to 1975.

Featured image: Harold Schmidt conducts, 1951.  Stanford Historical Photograph Collection