Longtime conductor for The Master Singers is retiring after 30 years

Published: Mar. 11, 2023 at 8:56 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - For decades one man has been brining music to the Greater Chippewa Valley and around the world with his choir The Master Singers.

Sunday Gary Schwartzhoff will be taking his final bow with the group at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Eau Claire.

“Well, I’m always okay with this until someone asks me that question. I supposed there’s a time when to say when. And that’s what part of this is. It’s bitter sweet to let this go,” said Schwartzhoff.

After thirty years with The Master Singers, he is saying goodbye to his post as conductor.

Schwartzhoff found his passion for music when he joined his Aunt’s church choir.

“it was a very exciting thing for us in that time period to join the church choir which was very large,” said Schwartzhoff.

In 1970, he made choral music his career, eventually becoming the director of choral activities at UW-Eau Claire in 1991.

It was there where he, his wife Nancy and a member of the existing music program revived the choir and named it The Master Stingers.

The community chamber ensemble has appeared on stages around the state, the country and the world.

From the 75th Anniversary D-Day concert in Paris, France to honoring President John F. Kennedy in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center in 2013.

“But none is more unique and special as that of which we have done here at First Congregational Church,” said Schwartzhoff.

His time with the Master Singers also came with the opportunity to help music teachers build their craft.

“Although it’s not in the bylaws of our organization, I have always felt that part of the mission of The Master Singers is to reach out and offer continuing education to music teachers who choose to sing with us,” said Schwartzhoff.

Lloyd Harter is a full-time choir teacher and organist for The Master Singers. He said the one year he has spent with Schwartzhoff has been a valuable experience.

“I certainly feel that I am a better organist coming out of this working with Gary than I would have without this experience. I come to rehearsal and have Gary refine my sound, and my sound within the sound of the choir to see how he does that within his choir,” said Harter. “There’s so many times I’m directing my choir and suddenly I think ‘oh, yeah. That came from Gary.’”

The years of mentoring, traveling, conducting and being a pillar of the community has also meant time away from the family.

“It’s been a joyful journey. Had its struggles along the way. The master singers is a whole lot of musical experiences that have been really special,” said Schwartzhoff.

Now retiring from the choir that given him so much, he plans to spend the next chapter of his life focused on spending more time with his wife Nancy.

“Many years ago we promised one another... that we would leave some time in the end... for my wife and I... This is it,” said Schwartzhoff.

He will be conducting his last show with The Master Singers Sunday March 12th at 2 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ.

Schwartzhoff will continue to be the church’s choral music director until September 2023.