The History of the Montana Choral Directors Association

by Dean Peterson
(This article first appeared in NW Notes, the newsletter for the NW Division, ACDA, in the Spring, 2000, edition)

The commemoration of a new century is a good time to look forward but also to take stock in the past. For me, in researching this article, I was able to gain a new appreciation for my profession as a Montana choral director and the hard work of my colleagues both past and present. As I looked back at the history of the Montana Choral Directors Association, it was disappointing to find little or no written information prior to 1967. Therefore I will present our history from that point forward and will share with you interesting facts and developments that I came upon in the dusty old files of MCDA. 

The Late Sixties
1967 was a turning point for Montana Choral Directors! It was in that year that members of the MCDA began discussing affiliation with the ACDA. Up to this point, the activities of our choral colleagues seemed limited to planning convention clinics and organizing All-State Choir. The group seemed eager to move forward and during this time many of the traditions and activities that we take for granted today were being proposed and implemented. 

The first AA Choral Festivals took place that year. The excitement and success of these early festivals led to more events that incorporated not only AA schools but smaller high schools as well as junior high and elementary level schools. 

Many teachers in the state were frustrated with the All-State performances being held in the spring. Proposals were formulated to move the All-State events to another time of year in order to avoid the conflict and interruptions with State Music Festival. Committee work was also implemented to find ways to include sight- reading as a part of District Music Festivals. In 1968 a proposal was brought to the Montana High School Association to move All-State to the fall. This proposal, as well as one to include sight-reading at district festival, was voted down. 

Discussion continued on whether or not we should affiliate with ACDA and on Oct. 23, 1969, the call for a vote was made. Twenty- five members voted in favor of affiliation with 2 against. Our membership stood at 35 and dues at that time were $10 per year. If you wanted a life-membership in ACDA you could receive that for $100 or 5 yearly payments of $20. It is interesting to look at the membership lists from that time and find names of educators that are still active in our state. 

The Seventies
1970 ushered in the first of our ACDA Northwest Conventions. Russell Creaser, MCDA president, (1971-1973) gave the opening comments at the Olympic Hotel in Seattle, WA. His speech tells us about a new frontier for choral conductors as we "step forward into the Age of Aquarius." It is satisfying to know that 30 years later with the Age of Aquarius somewhere behind us, we still have the marvelous opportunity to participate in the Northwest ACDA Conventions. 

Issues of the early seventies included membership and necessary constitutional changes due to the recent affiliation with ACDA. The constitutional changes were needed to bring us more in line with the national ACDA.

Regarding membership, many felt our organization was oriented primarily toward larger high schools and recommended broadening our state membership to include more college, church and rural members. The 1972 convention reflected this concern.

Joyce Eilers was the headliner and she presented sessions more inclusive of elementary-middle school as well as a session in which a statewide treble choir was formed as a demonstration group. Efforts were made to include young ladies from both rural and urban communities in the demonstration choir. 

Finally, in 1974 the Montana High School Association approved of moving the All-State Organizations to the October MENC Convention dates. Fortunately, our leaders had the persistence and determination to continue pushing this issue for eight years without giving up. New audition materials and procedures were introduced for the first time including suggestions that cassette tapes be used rather than the old fashioned reel to reel. 

The mid-seventies saw many schools and conductors doing special literature, concerts, and events to commemorate our nation's Bi-centennial. Our headliner for the 1976 Fall Convention was the well-known conductor, actor, and composer, Jester Hairston. His workshops were humorous, informative and well received. 

In the late seventies, an annual MCDA newsletter began production and continued publication until the mid-nineties. One excellent feature of the early newsletter was the Share Your Great Find column in which choral directors throughout Montana submitted new choral titles of high quality. 

Membership growth was great during the seventies. From 1972 to 1978 our membership grew from 47 to 120. It is obvious that our attempts to reach a variety of conductors succeeded. 

The Eighties
In 1981 it was time to review our relationship with the national ACDA and whether we should continue as an affiliate. The membership voted to continue affiliation. At this time, our state was informed that in order to remain as an affiliate, we would have to maintain a membership of at least 100. Membership had dipped to 77.

An active campaign to increase membership was launched. In reviewing membership, it was decided that more church choir directors needed to become involved. An annual Church Choir Reading Session was established and continued until the late eighties. Fortunately, the membership rebounded and by 1982 we had over 100 members. 

As we approached the mid-eighties much concern was directed to the area of All-State Choir and how we might improve the quality. Many felt that preparation was poor and that directors needed to motivate their students to learn the music better. Sectional rehearsals were implemented but the results were minimal. Following a poorly prepared choir in 1985, it was decided that mandatory auditions would be put into place for the 1986 choir. The auditions, still in effect today, succeeded in improving our students' preparation and overall all-state experience. 

The summers of 1986 and 1987 saw our first Montana Choral Director's Retreats. The retreats were held at the residence of David Bunness in Clancy, Montana. The three-day events were conducted by Karle Erickson in l986 and Josef Knott in 1987. Both retreats were highly successful and it was hoped that they would become annual events. Other retreats were attempted, but it seems that scheduling, location, and expense always hampered our efforts. 

MCDA in collaboration with the Montana MENC helped commemorate the 50th anniversary of Montana's MENC by commissioning a special choral work for our 1987 All-State Choir. Alice Parker was chosen to do the commission as well as conduct our choir. The piece in three movements was called Stars and Stones. The commemoration also included a special Montana Children's Choir conducted by Jill Gallina.

We were working on the development of standardized sight reading materials for district festivals, our newsletter was published four times a year and we were in the process of formulating a list of all of the All-State Choir Literature and where it was to be located.

In 1989 the Montana High School Association ruled that sight-reading would become a part of district festivals and the ruling went into effect as we entered the 90's.

The Nineties
During the early nineties, we soon became accustomed to sight reading at district festivals. We initiated a new form of recognition for our outstanding Montana choral conductors known as the Distinguished Service Award. New ideas for our Fall sessions resulted in the formation of directors choirs under the leadership of Rod Eichenberger in 1994 and Robert Ray in1995. There was an ongoing discussion about the quality of published literature available and more often than not, we called upon our membership to submit titles of merit for our yearly reading sessions. Programs were set up to enable our members to borrow music from one another. 

By 1995 our treasury had dwindled to a frighteningly low sum. It was necessary to stop publication of the newsletter as a money saving device. Ideas were discussed on how to increase the treasury so that we would have the option of reinstating our newsletter and bringing in nationally recognized clinicians or groups for our conventions.

We also recognized the need to offer more opportunities for elementary and middle school conductors to become involved in the organization. Our president at that time, Peggy Leonardi, thought that the answer to both needs might be in the formation of a Youth Choir Festival. The festival was proposed and kicked off in 1996. The idea worked and we established a new tradition for MCDA which is both aboost to our treasury and helps involve elementary/middle school students and teachers in quality choral experiences. The festival became known as the Montana Youth Sing and it continues to be a highly attended and successful event each March. 

The late nineties saw technology take center stage as we became aware of the importance of computers and the internet in our daily and professional lives. As we leave the nineties behind we work toward bringing together not only telephone and address directories but also e-mail directories so that our members can more easily collaborate and communicate in this new century. 

We will accomplish the goal of bringing in a nationally recognized ensemble for our 2000 convention with the Male Ensemble Northwest. Next October we can look forward to not only hearing this fine ensemble in the host night concert but working with them in our Friday sessions offered by MCDA. 

Montana is well known as a strong northwestern state for choral programs. This reputation of excellence comes to us not by accident, but by the hard work and dedicated service of many individuals both past and present. It would be a discredit to our leadership if I did not recognize that excellence by acknowledging our past presidents in this article.

1963-65 Wilbur Funk
1965-67 Neil Dahlstrom
1967-68 Gordon Dahl
1969-71 Arthur Brandvold
1971-73 Russell Creaser 
1973-74 John Trepp
1974-76 Russell Creaser
1976-78 Frank Guenther
1979-81 Donald Simmons
1981-83 Paul Ritter
1983-85 Don Goddard
1985-87 David 
1987-89 L. Brian Listerud
1989-91 David Heidel
1991-93 Terry Annalora
1993-95 Norbert Rossi
1995-97 Peggy Leonardi
1997-99 Marco Ferro


It seems that there are many common threads that run through the years of our organization. Because we are a rural state and the population is low, we will continue to keep a watchful eye on our membership levels so that we can remain an affiliate organization of the ACDA.

Reaching out to a variety of choral directors and including them in our activities will continue as will our need to find quality materials and methods. As we move into the future we will need to work more diligently to maintain our achievements by encouraging younger conductors to remain in the Big Sky Country. Our future as an organization will be promising if we continue to work together, keeping Montana and the Northwest singing in the 21st Century.