Choral director and University of Texas at Austin Professor Emeritus Morris Beachy died in his sleep on Feb. 6 due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease.
Beachy joined the faculty of the university in 1957, and over the next 36 years developed one of the largest university choral programs in the country, noted for its diversity and high standards. He founded nine ensembles, including the UT Chamber Singers, the Longhorn Singers and the University Chorus.
“Dr. Beachy was a consummate musician who set an extraordinarily high standard of choral performance and profoundly impacted choral conductors and singers not only in Texas, but throughout this country,” said James Morrow, director of choral activities and associate professor of choral conducting in the Butler School of Music. “His choirs always sang with a gorgeous tone and with a highly refined and expressive delivery of the text. He loved words and loved creating vocal colors that captured the complexities of their meanings. The choral art has lost one of its most exquisite interpreters, to be sure. I’m immensely grateful I had the opportunity to be his student.”
Beachy earned his bachelor of music degree from Colorado State University in 1951, his master in music degree from the University of Oregon in 1952 and his doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Southern California in 1955. Before joining the faculty of The University of Texas at Austin, Beachy held teaching positions in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and California before accepting a position at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.
“Dr. Beachy’s tireless devotion to choral music and his uncompromising musical standards launched a great choral arts tradition in our community, which is alive and thriving in Austin like few other cities in the U.S.,” said Doug Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts.
Beachy served the Department of Music (now the Butler School of Music) in several capacities over the years, including coordinator of the conducting faculty, adviser to the graduate programs in choral music and acting chairman of the Department of Music. The University Chamber Singers (now the UT Chamber Singers), which he founded, has consistently ranked among the best in the nation. He retired from the university in 1993 as the Marlene and Morton Meyerson Centennial Professor Emeritus in Music.
“I was a walk-on in the A Cappella Choir at UT,” said Morton H. Meyerson, a former student of Beachy’s. “That choir was the elite choir for music majors only. When I say I was a walk-on, I mean I was walking by his choir room one day when I was a freshman and I heard people singing, so I took a seat at the back of the room to listen. He saw me, stopped rehearsal and asked who I was. I told him and he asked if I could sing. I told him yes, I’m a bass. He asked me then to join them in rehearsal and I sang under his direction for the next four years. Singing in the choir was one of my greatest experiences at UT because Beachy was a master conductor, a master musician and a master psychologist. I loved music and could sing, but under him, I was part of a well-oiled community.
“Years later, after I graduated, I made some money, and because Morris was one of the most meaningful, significant figures to me during my years at the university, I wanted to honor him, so I established the Marlene and Morton Meyerson Centennial Professorship in Music.”
Beachy founded choral groups on and off campus. He founded the Austin Choral Union, a group that sang with the Austin Symphony Orchestra, and later Austin Choral Artists and the Morris Beachy Singers. His association with the Austin Symphony Orchestra began in 1958 preparing major choral works and, on occasion, serving as guest conductor and soloist for the symphony until 1994. He also held the position of chorus master for the Austin Lyric Opera for its first six seasons. Beachy was a baritone soloist in opera, oratorio and recital and was a prolific author, publishing many articles on singing and choral performance.
He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Frances Beachy, daughters Sylvia Beachy and Diana Rutledge and grandson Spencer Rutledge.
Members of the Morris Beachy Singers will perform at his memorial at the Unity Church of the Hills at 2 p.m., Feb. 15. The church is at 9905 Anderson Mill Road in Austin. A memorial for Beachy at the Butler School of Music is planned for the spring.
For those who wish to make a memorial gift in Morris J. Beachy’s honor, please send your contributions to:
The University of Texas at Austin
Butler School of Music: Dr. Morris J. Beachy Choral Fellowship
1 University Station, E3100
Austin, Texas 78712-0435