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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Neil Lieurance -- an appreciation

I've been thinking for a while of doing an "appreciation" post for my teacher, mentor, and friend Neil Lieurance and now's the time.

While I'm lucky to have lots of mentors/models/inspiring teachers (I'll write more about them sometime), Neil is my "Ur-mentor" and it's doubtful I'd be doing what I'm doing today if it weren't for him and his influence. He student taught at Shorecrest HS north of Seattle my sophomore year and then the next year took a position at Shorecrest as a special ed teacher, but continued to accompany the the small ensemble. I also began to take voice lessons from him that year. At some point he asked, "What's your major going to be?" I answered that I wasn't sure, maybe English or History. At that point he said, "Have you ever thought about majoring in music?"

Well, that was the beginning and is the reason I'm in music.

Neil became the choir director at Shorecrest the next year and I started to think seriously about the goal of becoming a HS choral director. Neil gave me my first chance to conduct something with the choir ("On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever") and began a sharing process that has lasted all my career.

Here's Neil around the time of my senior year:
When I graduated, I started studying at the University of Washington, but this didn't mean the end of his influence. I'd show up at his house now and then and we'd listen to the latest recordings he'd gotten or the newest music he'd discovered. I can trace the beginnings of my love of choral repertoire from those sessions together. He's always been deeply curious and that definitely rubbed off. He'd also would play recordings and ask what I thought of the differences in sound between, let's say, Robert Shaw's and Gregg Smith's choirs. This interest in choral sound (and the many varieties possible) began here and would later be expanded by my experiences with Rod Eichenberger).

I think another marvelous attribute of Neil's (and one I've tried to emulate) is that once I wasn't his student, he immediately treated me like a colleague. I was treated like an adult from day one.

He began graduate work at Western Washington University during the summers when I was an undergraduate and that became my connection to Bob Scandrett and his work. Because of that, I started going to Bob's summer workshops with, among others, Gregg Smith, Louis Halsey, and Günter Graulich (publisher/editor for Hänssler/Carus Verlag). Bob, even though he was never my teacher, became a big influence in many ways.

Because of this I ended up going on a summer study tour to England that Bob organized (see here for the series of posts on this trip--which was amazing), along with Neil, Rick Asher, Rich Nace, and others.

Neil grew up in Castle Rock, WA in southwest Washington State on a small family farm. His HS teacher was Howard Meharg, well-known to anyone in the NW and editor of ACDA's NW Notes. Consequently, I've always considered Howard my musical "grandfather," and a few of my students have called Howard their "great-grandfather."

Neil attended Lower Columbia College before going to Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, where he worked with Bernard Regier. He ended up staying at Shorecrest HS for his entire HS teaching career, until "retiring" in 1993. During his time at Shorecrest his choirs were selected to perform at many regional conferences and the national conventions of both ACDA and MENC. Selected as the 1991 “Teacher of the year” in the Shoreline School District and the 1988 Washington Music Educators Association “Outstanding Music Educator,” Neil was also inducted to the WMEA “Hall of Fame” in 1998.

He was a longtime church musician, with positions at both Seattle First Baptist and First Methodist. 

I put "retired" in quotes because Neil has remained incredibly active as an adjudicator, clinician and guest conductor. He became an adjunct professor at Seattle Pacific University, teaching ear training, supervising student teachers, and directing their women's chorus. He was also Associate Conductor for the Choir of the Sound, a community choir based at Shoreline Community College.

Neil has so many former students who've gone on to be successful, whether in music or another field. His work has influenced so many of us and that gets passed down to our students.

Of course, Neil's best attribute is just who he is--a terrific person and friend.

Neil has many other interests as well. He's a fantastic photographer, who did workshops with National Geographic photographers and trips to photograph on an African safari and grizzly bears in Alaska. He's also a wonderful gardener with particularly beautiful dahlias.

I was able to see Neil this past summer, which was great. I can't give him enough thanks for my career, for support throughout the years, and for being a magnificent model as teacher and person.

I'll close with a picture from this past summer. Many thanks, Neil!


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