This week, the American vocal music community and the Eastman School of Music faced the loss of a beloved teacher.

Professor William W. McIver, 61, passed away from cancer, leaving behind many saddened family members and students.

The Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word hosted a service celebrating his life this past Sunday afternoon, Sept. 21.

A graduate of Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, McIver was one of the most prominent American vocal pedagogues during his lifetime.

At the age of nine, he made his first remarkable achievement – singing the title role of Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” live on NBC for three consecutive years.

At age 10, he publicly stated his desire to teach. Such dedication and passion for teaching naturally led to his involvement with the National Association of Teachers of Singing, which is the world’s largest professional association of singing teachers. Not only did he serve as the president of NATS, but he was also instrumental in forming the pedagogy committee of the Music Teacher’s National Association.

He was only on the Eastman faculty for four years – compared with the 29 years that he spent teaching at the University of North Carolina.

Despite this, the Sunday service at the Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word was attended by both current Eastman students and, as Russell Miller, assistant professor of vocal coaching and repertoire at Eastman, pointed out, several graduates as well.

The service was led by Reverend Craig S. Rhodenizer and Reverend Gregory W. Hager, with the organist James E. Bobb playing and accompanying the choir.

A choir consisting of member of the Eastman Chorale, students from McIver’s studio and the senior choir of the church sang several pieces in McIver’s memory.

In addition to several hymns, the meditative “Four Psalms, Op. 74” by Edward Grieg and Charles Gounod’s arrangement of J.S. Bach’s “Ave Maria” were performed.

The emotional ties that existed between McIver and those who attended the service were very evident, as people cried openly as the powerful sound of the choir moved through the cathedral. Tears were also shed when Miller spoke, offering reflections on McIver’s life.

Miller emphasized McIver’s integrity and openness of opinion as two qualities that everyone should take as an example and also as reasons why McIver was so respected and loved in the community.

The second speaker, Dr. Mario Martinez, described how, when he found out about McIver’s passing, he couldn’t decide if he should cancel his voice lessons. He opted not to, and believes he made the right decision.

“I realized I was honoring his memory by doing exactly what he loved to do so much – teaching,” Martinez said, failing to hold back his tears.

The last hymn selection of the service was especially successful under the given circumstances. The Engelberg hymn “When in Our Music God is Glorified” hails the importance of music in worship, stating how we should raise our voices, tune our instruments and make music because

it brings us closer to God.

There could have been no better choice for a closing hymn for McIver, who was also the music director, and later Chancel Choir Director of the first Lutheran Church in Greensboro, N.C., from 1971 to 1998.

Eastman has established a memorial scholarship in McIver’s honor. Checks should be made payable to the Eastman School of Music and have “William McIver” in the memo line.

The mailing address is: Eastman School of Music, Attn: Development 26, Gibbs St., Rochester, N.Y. 14604.

As organist Bobb was concluding the service with Johann Pachelbel’s variation of “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” and people were leaving the church, one couldn’t help but thinking of when Miller quoted McIver near the end of the reflections. “Bill would have said, ‘Let’s get to work!'”

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