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Danny Chan La, Deseret News
Gregory A. Glenn, director of music at the Cathedral of the Madeleine and former head of the Madeleine Choir School, will be acknowledged for his years of service to the cathedral and community.

Since 1989, the Cathedral of the Madeleine has been recognizing the achievements of members of the performing-arts community in Utah.

As the final event at the cathedral's annual Festival of the Arts and Humanities, the award has honored the contributions of the people who have improved the cultural atmosphere of Utah and who have made the state a mecca for the arts in the Intermountain West.

This year the cathedral has decided to honor one of its own. Gregory A. Glenn, director of music at the Cathedral of the Madeleine and former head of the Madeleine Choir School, will be acknowledged for his years of service not only to the cathedral but also to the community at a sold-out dinner today at the New Yorker.

The Deseret News spoke with Glenn recently in the rectory of the cathedral. He admitted he had no idea that he was nominated for this year's Madeleine Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts and Humanities. "It caught me by surprise. Generally, the award is given to someone outside of the cathedral. I was very surprised when I found out I was the recipient."

When he arrived in Salt Lake City 20 years ago, Glenn didn't think he would be here for more than a few years or that he would start a school that was destined to become the first of its kind in the United States. "When I came here to the diocese, it was to work with the entire state. I expected to be here five years" and then transfer elsewhere.

Glenn had a very loose thread linking him to Utah when he was in graduate school at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., because the Cathedral of the Madeleine's Monsignor Francis Mannion had done his doctoral work there a few years earlier.

"However, we never met there," Glenn said. But while finishing his master's degree in liturgical studies, Glenn found there was an opening in Salt Lake City. "It was one of three positions that were open that I considered." The other two were in Boston and Chicago. And their loss was Salt Lake City's gain.

Two years after coming here, Glenn began the cathedral's choir school. "That was in March 1990, and at first it was just an after-school program, and it was intended to function that way. It had its limitations, but each year we also held a summer camp, and it was surprising how much we could get done in five days."

The after-school program was an unqualified success, and eventually the idea of a full-blown choir school started to circulate. "We became enamored of the culture of a children's choir," Glenn said, as well as of a choir school structured after European models. "The more we discussed it, the more appealing it became." The new school announced it would open in August 1996, and within a matter of days it was filled.

"We had 106 students that first year, and we were pressured to open an eighth grade." The school now has 240 students.

One of the goals of the new school was to "preserve the mission of a choir school and not compromise ideals," Glenn said. Music is a part of the daily curriculum, although not every student is a singer. "In second and third grade, the children study violin, and there is a chamber orchestra in the upper grades." In addition to performing, the students also receive training in theory and sight singing, and they also study music history. "These are all very average children who just happen to receive an extensive music education along with their academic education."

Part of the Madeleine Choir School's mission is to foster liturgical music. And accordingly, the repertoire these youngsters sing ranges from Gregorian chant to contemporary sacred music. It's not unusual for the choir to perform a Sunday evening concert that includes Stravinsky's Mass after having just sung a traditional Vespers service a few hours earlier.

Glenn, who is very modest when speaking about his contributions to the choir school and to the Madeleine Festival, is quick to point out that neither would have gotten off the ground without the support of the cathedral priests, parents and staff.

"The school and the music program (including the festival) were Monsignor Mannion's vision of what a cathedral can be," Glenn said. "It was thanks to him and to the parents and staff members who have given a great deal of their time and skills that this was made possible."

The cathedral's children and adult choirs can be heard in concert several times a year, but their reach branches out far beyond the state. Touring is a huge part of the children's activities. They just returned from a trip to Seattle, and in November they'll be traveling to Spain where they'll perform in five cities. "These performing tours are not only a wonderful experience for the children, but it also hones their skills and techniques and lets them strive to another level of excellence," Glenn said.

The choir embarks on an international tour every other year, and every four years members travel to Italy. "Doing it like that allows all of the children to visit Italy and perform there."

Recently, Glenn inaugurated a Spanish language choir. "The cathedral started a Spanish mass several years ago, and that has always been packed." So for Glenn it was only natural to have a choir for that mass. "It's been a real eye-opener and a new and wonderfully rewarding experience for me," he said. Most of the choir's members come from Mexico, with a few from Guatemala, and none have had any formal musical training, so everything has to be memorized. Glenn is astonished at how easily they can memorize the music.

"They are eager to learn, and their memories are amazing. It's been a pleasure having this choir at the cathedral."

Music has been a part of Glenn's life since he was a child. "My family is very musical. My grandfather was an organist and my father was a musician." Since he was 6 or 7, Glenn has loved to listen to organ music. He took piano lessons around that time and then switched to the organ when he was 13 and tall enough to reach the pedals. He got his break when the organist at his parish church in his native Washington state had a slipped disc and couldn't play. The teenage Glenn stepped up and took over. "And that was how it all started," he quipped.

Glenn majored in organ performance in Seattle Pacific University, then went east to Catholic University for his master's. Along with the organ, choral music and specifically the Roman Catholic choral tradition had always fascinated him. After he graduated from Catholic University, Glenn joined the music staff at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, also in Washington, D.C., where he had the opportunity of working with the renowned choral scholar Leo Nestor. "That was wonderfully formative for me," Glenn said.

Of everything that he has accomplished at the cathedral, Glenn said he takes greatest pride in his students. "I'm most proud of the students who have gone forth from this place. They are a wonderful group of young people." This fall, graduates of the choir school will be attending Dartmouth, Westminster Choir College, St. Olaf's, Indiana University and other colleges around the country.

Over the years, Glenn has made a number of friends in the musical community. Among them is former Mormon Tabernacle Choir director Craig Jessop, who is scheduled to speak at the dinner today. "Craig is one of my heroes," Glenn said. "We've collaborated many times, we've supplied treble soloists to a lot of their performances and we took part in the Olympics with them."

Jessop and the Tabernacle Choir have always been very supportive of the choir school, Glenn said. "With the complex relationships in Salt Lake City, this has been a wonderful friendship between these two churches. It's been a wonderful and positive thing, and it's been largely due to Craig reaching out. He made us feel welcome."


E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com