Choral History

Eastern Michigan University Choral Tradition and Legacy

In the fall of 1880, Eastern Michigan University, known as the Michigan State Normal School, tasked Professor Frederic Pease with founding a choir and a music program. He began the Normal Conservatory of Music in 1881, a program he would cultivate, and which would grow into what we know today as the Eastern Michigan University School of Music & Dance.

Madrigal Singers
 Madrigal Singers, ca. 1925
Madrigal Singers

 Madrigal Singers, ca. 1925

Frederic Pease, born on August 24, 1839 in a small log cabin in rural Ohio, was exposed to music at an early age through participation in the Oberlin Choir. After his voice changed, he stopped singing but continued to play violin. In 1863, despite having received no formal music education, Pease’s innate musical talent impressed, and an offer to teach music at the Michigan State Normal College was extended to
him. Here he emphasized effective and efficient teaching. One of his students is quoted as saying, “He seemed to know instinctively beforehand what parts of a piece we needed help on… Pease was economy personified.”

Pease developed the first four-year music program at Michigan State Normal College, played an active role in bringing music to the community by planning weekly recitals and annual concerts by the Normal Choir, and offered learning opportunities to talented community members. After being granted leave from his position at the Normal Conservatory, Pease studied with masters in Dresden, Germany and in Milan, Italy. He also visited schools in Switzerland and London to broaden his teaching methods, and to take in the performance culture. Upon his return to the States in 1882, Pease continued teaching, confidently applying the knowledge he gained while abroad, emphasizing a high level of musicianship. He took it upon himself to write several early textbooks to assist teachers of music. Pease continued leading the department until his death in 1909, after which his successor, Frederick Alexander, carried on his legacy. Frederick Alexander was born and raised in Michigan. He received a Bachelors degree in music from the University of Michigan. Previously he taught in California at the University of California at Berkley. In 1909, Alexander assumed the position as the Director of Music at Michigan State Normal College and director of the Normal Conservatory. Alexander was responsible for expanding the program to include instrumental music education in the curriculum. In 1915 Alexander oversaw the opening of Frederic H. Pease Auditorium, a venue that would bring prominent performers such as Duke Ellington, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, John Philip Sousa, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and many others to the campus. After teaching from 1909 to 1941, Frederick Alexander retired, leaving a lasting impact so influential that the current music building is named after him.

choir1929
Image of the choral ensembles 1926 
choir1929

Image of the choral ensembles 1926 

The choral directors who followed expanded the singing opportunities for students. Hayden Morgan, Alexander’s successor, established the EMU Choir, Women’s Chorus, Men’s Glee Club, Freshmen Girls’ Vocal Ensemble, and the Madrigal Singers. Through the founding directors’ determination, passion, and focus on excellence and growth, the EMU choir program has continued to thrive and flourish.

The EMU Choir has performed across the globe with multiple performance tours through Europe and South America. In 2016, the EMU choir continued its tradition of international travel with a tour of the United Kingdom, performing in Scotland, Wales, and England. The ensemble began their performance tour in St. Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland, and it culminated with a concert in the impressive Ely Cathedral's Lady Chapel in Cambridgeshire, England.
— Monica Ely, 2018

To hear the choir from 1940 visit this University Archieves web recording. 

To learn more visit the:

University Archives page on the choir's history.

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