Choral Arts’ Norman Scribner: 1936-2015

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Norman Scribner, founder and artistic director emeritus of the Choral Arts Society of Washington. | Choral Arts Society

If ever there was a man who personally and professionally, by deed, experience, action, intelligence, diversity of roles, talent and, no doubt love, embodied the world of classical music in Washington, it was Norman Scribner, the founder and artistic director emeritus of the Choral Arts Society of Washington.

Scribner died Sunday, March 22, at his home unexpectedly.

Scribner’s life in the classical music community of Washington, and for that matter, in the country and world, was exceptionally full-bodied, well-rounded and touched the lives of many, many artists, and large audiences throughout his career. He was and remains best known as the founder of a unique arts institution in this city, the Washington Choral Arts Society, which he founded in 1965 and led for 47 years as its director in regular yearly concerts at the Kennedy Center.

Under his leadership, Choral Arts, an ensemble of more than 170 singers, became a national and world class chorus, which appeared with the world’s leading conductors and orchestras, made frequent television performances, made popular and acclaimed recordings and toured nationally and internationally. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that he elevated the appreciation of choral music in this city, certainly, but also around the world.

The rest of his life includes a history of impressive checklists and accomplishments:

= Scribner assembled a professional choir (called the Norman Scribner Choir) to perform the world premiere of “Mass” for the opening of the Kennedy Center at the request of Leonard Bernstein. The choir also recorded the original cast recording of “Mass” as well as a Grammy-nominated recording of Hadyn’s “Mass in Time of War” in 1973.

= Was the staff keyboard artist for the National Symphony Orchestra—1963 to 1967.

= Was member of the choral panel of the National Endowment for the Arts.

= Produced the annual free Christmas and Spring festivals at the Kennedy Center.

= Was chorus master of the Washington National Opera.

= Prepared the annual Handel Festival.

= Was a well known composer—the choral symphony “Love Divine” was commissioned by the United Methodist Church.

= Became conductor of the American University Chorale and assistant organist at Washington National Cathedral after graduating from Peabody Conservatory.

= Was organist and choirmaster at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 1960 to 2007.

= Was a Washingtonian of the Year and a 1998 Mayor’s Arts Award for “Excellence in an Artistic Discipline” and the Peabody Distinguished Alumni Award.

Debra Kraft, executive director of the Choral Arts Society of Washington, wrote: “We are deeply saddened to confirm that Norman Scribner, The Choral Arts Society of Washington’s founder and Artistic Director Emeritus, passed peacefully and unexpectedly yesterday at his home. A statement from Choral Arts is forthcoming with details on funeral arrangements.”

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