Waukon High School alumnus Gary Schwartzhoff to serve as Artistic Director for D-Day and Liberation of France Choral Festival celebrating 75th anniversary of D-Day

Gary Schwartzhoff... Submitted photo.

WHS graduate to conduct D-Day 75th anniversary Choral Festival... Waukon High School 1970 graduate Gary Schwartzhoff (at left) shakes hands with a World War II veteran during the 60th anniversary observance of the D-Day invasion commemorated in 2004 in France. Schwartzhoff directed the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Concert Choir in a concert performance at both the 50th and 60th anniversary D-Day observances in Paris, France and will now lead the UW-Eau Claire Alumni Choir in commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day at the Paris Choral Festival scheduled for Monday, July 8. Submitted photo.

The year 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, historically considered the single most pivotal day in World War II. The heroics of that fateful day, June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France are certainly worth singing the praises of, and an alumnus of Waukon High School will be directing the very effort to do just that this Monday, July 8 at the D-Day and Liberation of France Choral Festival held in Paris, a grand musical commemoration in honor of those who fought for freedom during what’s considered to be the world’s greatest invasion.

Dr. Gary Schwartzhoff, DMA, a 1970 graduate of Waukon High School, is listed as the Artistic Director for that Paris Choral Festival, which will include over 350 vocalists involving 13 choirs from across the United States. Organized by Music Celebrations International, a company which matches highly recommended performing ensembles with prestigious national and international events, the Paris Choral Festival will feature “Requiem for the Living,” a 40-minute, five-movement musical creation by award-winning composer, educator and music editor Dan Forrest.

In 1994, Music Celebrations International (MCI), partnering with the United States Department of Defense and Department of the Interior, was recognized as the official tour operator to bring performing ensembles from the United States to France to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of D-Day and the Liberation of France. MCI clients performed for WWII Veterans June 6 at the American Cemetery in Coleville, Normandy. In 2004 and 2014, MCI also organized significant tours and events to commemorate the 60th and 70th anniversaries, as the company also has for this year’s 75th anniversary event.

A long-time music educator since his days at Waukon High School, including a 25-year career at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Schwartzhoff has previously directed the The UW-Eau Claire Concert Choir at the 50th and 60th anniversary celebrations of D-Day in Europe in 1994 and 2004, respectively. Retired from his formal position at UW-Eau Claire since 2016, he will now direct the UW-Eau Claire Alumni Choir as part of this year’s Choral Festival taking place with a variety of events from July 2-9. The Choral Festival is part of a collection of commemorative events being held throughout the summer in Normandy in celebration of the D-Day 75th Anniversary.

The July 8 Choral Festival concert under Schwartzhoff’s direction will take place at La Madeleine, formally inaugurated during Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign as L’église de la Madeleine, which is a church in the heart of Paris that was built in the style of a Greco-Roman temple. This Roman Catholic church, dedicated to Mary Magdalene, is one of the best known buildings in Paris, and is host to some of the most important concerts in the city.

This church has been the site of multiple performances by UW-Eau Claire Concert Choir and UW-Eau Claire Alumni Choir during the past 30 years. The interior is lavishly decorated with marble, and has a single nave with three domes. At the altar sits a statue of Mary Magdalene being carried up to heaven by two angels, created by the Italian sculptor Baron Charles Marochetti. La Madeleine also has a statue of St. Augustine created by Antoine Etex, as well as two by François Rude - the masterpiece Baptism of Christ, and the baptismal font.

In addition to the July 8 concert at La Madeleine, the choir will also have the opportunity to participate in a choral remembrance and wreath-laying ceremony at the American Cemetery, site of the June 6, 1944 Normandy Invasion, Thursday, July 4, along with a variety of other sightseeing opportunities prior to rehearsals beginning July 6. The group is scheduled to return to the United States Tuesday, July 9.

Schwartzhoff is a 1970 graduate of Waukon High School, and he says his involvement in the school’s music programs under the direction of the late Al Leathers inspired him to pursue his own career in music education, graduating in 1974 from Central College in Pella with a degree in Music Education.

While teaching music at Ames High School, he furthered his own education by completing his Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from the University of Northern Iowa in 1981 and then his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Conducting at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1990. He then began a 25-year career as the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire before retiring in 2016, but continues to serve as Professor Emeritus at the University, this year marking his 45th year as a music educator.

In addition to his education credentials, Schwartzhoff has been active throughout his professional career in the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) and Intercollegiate Male Choruses (IMC). In ACDA, he served as President of the North Central Division from 1992-1994 and served as a member of the IMC Executive Board from 1993-2016. The Wisconsin Choral Directors Association (WCDA) presented him the Outstanding Church Musician Award in 2007 and the Morris Hayes Award for lifetime achievement in the choral art in 2010.

Schwartzhoff has presented choirs on over 30 conventions before the state, divisional and national levels of ACDA, IMC and the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). He has also conducted national choral festivals honoring former Presidents of the United States in Washington D.C. in 2009 (Lincoln), 2013 (John F. Kennedy) and 2016 (Franklin D. Roosevelt). In 2018, Schwartzhoff was presented the Marshall Bartholomew Award by IMC in Washington D.C., an honor bestowed upon conductors who have made significant contributions to the field of male chorus music.

When not involved in conducting world-renown festival events, Schwartzhoff also currently continues to conduct The Master Singers in Eau Claire, WI and serves as Director of Music at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Eau Claire, where he conducts the Chancel Choir. He is married to his wife, Nancy, and they have two daughters, Jenifer (Jerry) Morgan and Rebecca (Andy) Johnson, as well as five grandchildren, Brady, Alex, Anna, Emma and Clare.

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