‘It’s always about the students’: Longtime UMaine voice professors retiring after Sunday BSO concert
Between the two, Ludlow Hallman and Dennis Cox have 80 years of experience teaching choral music and vocal performance at the University of Maine. But to Hallman, who started his career at UMaine in 1970, Cox will always be a young pup — he only started in 1978.
“I’m still the kid,” said Cox, 70, with a twinkle in his eye. “And after all these years, we still like each other.”
“Amazing, isn’t it?” said Hallman, 72. “We’ve been through a lot of wars together. We’ve become very good friends.”
Both professors are retiring at the end of the semester, and this weekend’s Bangor Symphony Orchestra concert will be their last time working with the vocal groups they’ve led for decades: the Oratorio Society, which Hallman has conducted since he started, and the University Singers, which Cox has helmed for more than 30 years. The two groups will join guest vocalists Jennifer Barnett (soprano), Andrew Skoog (tenor), and Christopher Sanders (baritone), and Maestro Lucas Richman and the BSO in performing Carl Orff’s monumental 1936 cantata, “Carmina Burana,” at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 13 at the Collins Center for the Arts.
Hallman, originally from Ohio, started at UMaine after choosing the job over a similar position at Kent State University in Ohio — one that would have began mere weeks before the infamous shooting by National Guardsmen of unarmed protesters. Hallman was glad to be at UMaine, though he wasn’t sure he was going to stay for long.
“I expected to stay about two years. It’s been 44. … I grew to love it. And I’m so close to the ocean,” said Hallman, an avid sailor.
Cox, a Nebraska native, was studying in Missouri with his mentor, choral conductor Eph Ehly, when he decided to take his position at UMaine. Over the years, he and Hallman have seen countless students come and go — but the two also had a remarkable amount of consistency in membership.
“We have members of the Oratorio Society that were here when I got here, and they’re still singing,” said Hallman. “[University of Maine French professor] Cathleen Bauschatz auditioned the first year I was here, and she’s still with us. Margaret Radke, who is 90 now, has been with the group for 60 years. It’s really incredible.”
Cox — known as “DC” to the thousands of students he’s taught over the years — has watched nervous young singers blossom into trained vocalists, has seen students head off to graduate school to further pursue music, and has been witness to countless love affairs, started during rehearsals for the University Singers.
“We’ve had over 15 marriages come out of this group. I’m now conducting the children of some of my first students,” said Cox. “[Orono State Rep.] Emily Cain and Danny Williams, who’s now the Collins Center director, they met here. I remember it well. … We’re really a family.”
Though it’s not necessarily Cox or Hallman’s favorite piece to conduct — Hallman adores Brahms’ “Requiem,” and Cox is partial to Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” — “Carmina Burana” is one of the most well-known pieces of music in the choral repertoire. Opening movement “O Fortuna” has been used in countless pop cultural settings, from reappropriation by artists such as metal legend Ozzy Osbourne and rapper Nas, to films ranging from “Excalibur,” “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Jackass,” to TV shows such as “Glee.”
It’s fitting, then, that this last semester of student singers under both professors’ tutelage will go out with a bang. Hallman and Cox admit that what they’ll miss most about their jobs are the students.
“It’s always about the students,” said Hallman. “It’s always the most rewarding part of any day.”
Once his retirement is official, Hallman plans to head to Italy with his wife, Marlene, where he’ll work to add Italian to the list of languages he speaks. Cox will advocate for the School of the Performing Arts as an emeritus professor — and keep up on his beloved Bruins, Red Sox and countless other teams he follows.
“We have great students right now, and I mean that sincerely. And we have great facilities, too,” said Cox. “The biggest challenge we still face today is that the University of Maine is a fine school that does not have the funding to support the programs we’ve got. We’re always crying for money. I plan to actively go out and solicit money for the School of Performing Arts. That’s something I plan to do in my retirement … and watch a lot of sports. That too.”
The BSO concert, which also will feature a performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 35, will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Collins Center. Tickets start at $16. For information, visit bangorsymphony.org.