GUILDERLAND — “How wonderful to be in love!” wrote David Griggs-Janower, the founder, artistic director, and conductor of Albany Pro Musica, on the last release he dispatched for a concert.
“My pile of favorite choral love songs would easily take five hours to perform,” he wrote before expounding on the list he’d distilled for the March concert.
A guest conductor took his place since Dr. Griggs-Janower had suffered a stroke on March 8 in the midst of surgery as he battled cancer.
“What David has created with Pro Musica,” Matthew Kopans, the group’s the executive director, told us at the time, “is a force for good in the community.”
Dr. Griggs-Janower died Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, surrounded by his family. He was 60.
Love permeated all he did.
Dr. Griggs-Janower frequently sent notices to The Enterprise, detailing the accomplishments of his daughter, Kathryn, and his son, Michael, all the while apologizing for being a “stage father.” “Not to be piggy,” he wrote when sending in news of his daughter’s choir singing at Carnegie Hall soon after he had submitted a dean’s list notice for her.
His son had the lead in Guilderland High School’s spring musical and went on with the performance despite his father’s stroke. “Mikey feels like that’s his father’s legacy,” said Jennifer Amstutz, president of Albany Pro Musica at the time.
Born and raised on Long Island, Dr. Griggs-Janower was the son of the late Benjamin and Claire Janower. After graduating from Cornell, where he studied music theory and history, he earned master of music and doctor of music degrees in conducting from the Indiana University School of Music.
Since 1981, he was the director of choral music and professor at the University at Albany. That same year, he founded Albany Pro Musica.
Karen Hitchcock, the president of the University at Albany from 1996 until 2003 and currently the president of Albany Pro Musica, after Dr. Griggs-Janower’s death, distributed statements from some of those who knew him best.
Dr. Hitchcock, herself, wrote, “David will live on in the continuing musical excellence of Albany Pro Musica, in the lifelong love of music he instilled in his students, and in all of us whom he inspired with his talent, his belief in the transformative power of great music, his commitment to excellence, and his devotion to the well-being of others.”
Margery Whiteman, a singer with Albany Pro Musica for 28 years, wrote, “His restless study of the rich depths of the western choral tradition, as well as offerings from non-western cultures, ensured that the singing experience was forever fresh.”
“David was always happy conducting,” wrote Kopans, the executive director, “but I think he was happiest when leading APM along with the six or seven high school choruses we invited each year to the High School Choral Festival. He would look out at the audience and ask, ‘Aren’t these kids great!” with such joy in his voice.”
Deirdre Michael, a soprano with Albany Pro Musica, wrote, “David demanded that we have high musical standards to match his own. But, more than that, he demanded that we feel and be moved. If we weren’t moved, how could our audience be moved?”
“David was exasperatingly accurate at hearing what was going wrong and mirroring it back to us,” wrote Sharon Roy, an Albany Pro Musica alto. “He could be sarcastic or just devastatingly accurate in showing us our mistakes. And wickedly funny. Sometimes I thought he aspired to be the Victor Borge of choral music.”
“David introduced people unfamiliar with choral singing to its glories,” wrote William Tuthill, an Albany Pro Musica bass. “He carried the message — lived the message — of why music matters. He bridged the gap between everyday life and choral music.”
Dr. Griggs-Janower’s everyday life was lived in Guilderland where his wife, Paige Griggs, is a teaching assistant at Lynnwood Elementary School. Dr. Griggs-Janower frequently dispatched e-mails and letters to the Enterprise editor, commenting insightfully and passionately on a wide range of topics.
The quotations he posted at the ends of his e-mails embodied both his precision with the practice of music and his understanding of its worth to society.
“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” he quoted from Berthold Auerbach.
Dr. Griggs-Janower also referenced Aristotle: “Although nature has gifted us all with voices, correct singing is the result of art and study.”
Humor was important to Dr. Griggs-Janower, too. His e-mails quoted Michael Torke: “Why waste money on psychotherapy when you can just listen to the B Minor Mass?’
And finally, he had this, from Winston Churchill, when asked about cutting arts funding to fuel the war machine: “Then what are we fighting for?”
David Griggs-Janower is survived by his wife, Paige, and their children, Kathryn and Michael, and his extended family.
The family will greet friends and loved ones at the First Reformed Church, 8 North Church Street, Schenectady, today, Aug. 29, from 4 to 7 p.m.
Arrangements are by the McVeigh Funeral Home in Albany. Mourners may leave online messages at www.McveighFuneralHome.com.
A memorial celebration will follow at 11 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 30, at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 30 2nd Street where Albany Pro Musica will sing.
Memorial contributions may be made to Albany Pro Musica, online at www.albanypromusica.org.
— Melissa Hale-Spencer