Lara G. Hoggard, William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor of Music (Emeritus) at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and one of the most widely recognized and honored choral and orchestral conductors in the United States and Europe, died Friday, March 16, in Durham, North Carolina. He was 92.
He was born in Kingston, Oklahoma, February 9, 1915. His musical career began in April 1926 when the eleven-year-old “Larry” won first prize for piano in the Marshall County Interscholastic Contests in Madill after having only one piano lesson. He had learned Beethoven’s “Minuet in G” by listening to a girl friend practice. A succession of prizes for his scholastic as well as his musical achievements soon followed.
During his senior year at Southeastern Teachers College in Durant, Hoggard became the director of the Russell High School program in vocal music. Three of his four ensembles won top honors in the state competitions for 1934. After graduating with highest honors, he continued in Durant as the supervisor of music in the Durant Public Schools where his choral ensembles began to attract much wider attention. The Durant High School Choir represented Oklahoma at the Music Educators National Conference in St. Louis in 1938 winning the highest praise from Noble Cain, the principal clinician and conductor for the event. A year later the Durant choir sang for the national convention of the Federated Music Clubs in Baltimore, and on this occasion there was recognition for his excellent choral work in the Nashville, Baltimore, and Washington newspapers.
After conducting a summer workshop at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, he was offered a position at the university which he delayed for a year in order to complete an MA at the Teachers College of Columbia University. In September of 1940, he assumed his duties as the Director of Choral Activities at OU and by 1942 was again in the national spotlight. His OU Men’s Glee Club, one of eight chosen in a nationwide competition, participated in May 1942 in the Chesterfield National Pleasure-Time Glee Club Championship arranged by Fred Waring at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The judges presented a special award for choral artistry and musicianship to the glee club, and Waring arranged for them to remain in New York for several more days so that they could perform on two occasions as a part of his nationally broadcast radio program on the NBC network. Deems Taylor, critic for the New York Times, wrote that “from a musical standpoint, none of the others could touch that group from Oklahoma University.”
He resigned his position at Oklahoma to accept a commission in the navy where he served as a communications officer on the staff of Admiral Sprague aboard the small aircraft carrier, the Sangamon. After the Battle of Leyte Gulf he received a commendation “for exemplary leadership in combat and for performance above and beyond the call of duty.” Upon his return from combat in the Pacific, he was ordered to Washington to conduct The Navy Hour. One of the members of the selection board had heard his Oklahoma choirs perform the Brahms German Requiem with the Oklahoma City Symphony under Hoggard’s direction and recommended him. At the conclusion of the series NBC offered him a job as Director of Music for the network and conductor for the Ford Sunday Evening Hour which he declined in order to return to Columbia University to pursue the doctorate.
Soon after he resumed his studies, he accepted a position as the associate conductor of Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, replacing Robert Shaw. By the time he completed the degree he had established himself as a choral festival and workshop clinician and conductor, directing, among many others, the choir and orchestra for the Centennial Celebration of the Church of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City.
From 1948 to 1951 he worked with Waring’s Pennsylvanians, preparing and conducting radio, television, recording, and concert performances. He co-founded the Waring Summer Choral Workshops and served as the principal instructor. His Festival of Song, a pioneering “multimedia ‘choral-theater’” production toured eighty-five cities during the 1952-53 season under the auspices of the Waring organization. Although Variety Magazine termed Festival of Song the “season’s best,” and newspapers across the United States gave it excellent reviews, Hoggard decided against a second season.
At the request of his friend and former principal in the Durant school system, Louis Armstrong, Hoggard visited the campus of Indian Springs School near Birmingham, Alabama in 1955 to help locate a suitable conductor for the ISS Glee Club. He decided to accept the position himself, seeing it as an opportunity for research. Under his direction the ISS Glee Club received acclaim from audiences across the Southeast.
Leaving Alabama in 1960, Hoggard returned to Hemet, California where he had lived while working briefly for the Idyllwild Arts Foundation (University of Southern California) after he left the Waring organization, and, again, his residence in California was brief. In Texas to conduct workshops he was persuaded to become the director of the Midland-Odessa Symphony Orchestra and Choral, which under his guidance from 1962 through 1967, when he left Texas to become William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina, conducting and inspiring future choral conductors through exposure to the Carolina Choir which prospered musically and institutionally.
During his first year in Chapel Hill, Hoggard conducted the premier of Dave Brubeck’s oratorio Light in the Wilderness with a chorus of townspeople and university students. Earlier he had conducted premiers of works by Roy Ringwald (1950, 1951), Joseph W. Clokey (1955), and Talmage Dean (1964). The Carolina Choir, which he founded, presented the opening concert for the Music Educators National Conference (Southern Division) at Daytona Beach, Florida in 1971, and the following year was named the “Resident Ensemble” for the Austrian International Music Festival in Graz. Introducing the choir at its final performance in Graz, the Austrian Minister of Culture declared that “we have not heard finer singing in Austria.”
In 1973 and 1974 Hoggard was the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor for the Jugendenmusikfest in Vienna, Austria. There he conducted masterwork performances in the famous Konzerthaus.
Following his retirement from UNC in 1980, he spent a year as the Fuller E. Callaway Prefessor at Columbus College, Columbus, Gerogia. However, in addition to conducting workshops and festivals, he devoted most of his years in retirement to editing an English version of the Brahms German Requiem and other significant choral masterpieces.
Among his many awards and citations are those from the Birmingham (Alabama) Fine Arts Festival for his “Outstanding contribution to music in Alabama” (1959); the West Texas Chamber of Commerce which named him “West Texan, 1967”; the Governor and Senate of the State of Texas for his “Outstanding contribution to the fine arts in Texas” (1967); the North Carolina Chapter, American Choral Directors Association for “Outstanding leadership and distinguished service to music in North Carolina” (1976); and from the Czech Philharmonic Society “in gratitude to Maestro Lara Hoggard for the inspirational concerts involving Czech orchestra musicians” (1976). The University of North Carolina presented him its Tanner Award in 1971; five years later the student body at UNC voted him one of “Our Ten Best Professors.” In 1986 the State of North Carolina awarded him its highest honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, recognizing, among his many other accomplishments, his work for thirty-one years as the director of the North Carolina Summer Institute in Choral Arts, providing inspiration to literally thousands of North Carolina teachers and young singers. As further tribute, the 55th Anniversary of NCSICA this June, 2007, will be dedicated to the late Dr. Hoggard.
An Atlanta columnist once conjectured that “it is possible that Lara Hoggard has taught and conducted more people in person than has anyone else in the world.” What is certain is that, as Robin Garner wrote, “The lifework of Lara Hoggard is synonymous with choral music education, consummate musicianship and inspired performances, not only in North Carolina but throughout the United States and beyond.” Thousands of students who sang with him will remember not just that he made them sing better than they thought they could, but that through the music and his conducting they found a sentience and depth in the music and in themselves that otherwise they might never have known they had.”
Previous Recipients of the Lara Hoggard Award