Choir Director To Step Down After 10 Years

Michael W. Nitsch

Choirmaster MURRAY F. SOMERVILLE, at practice today in Memorial Hall Basement, will depart Harvard to become the Director of Music at St. George’s Espiscopal Church in Nashville, Tenn.

University Organist and Choirmaster Murray F. Somerville announced Sunday that he is leaving Harvard for Nashville, Tenn.—“music city”—after more than ten years directing the choir at Harvard’s Memorial Church.

Somerville has accepted a post as Director of Music at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, which he will assume in the fall.

Credited with revitalizing Harvard’s choir, Somerville said he is leaving for St. George’s both for the challenge of building up its music program and for a change of scenery.

Somerville cited climate and proximity to his wife’s family as personal reasons for the move. “My wife broke her arm in four places two years ago,” Somerville said. “She’s very concerned with ice in New England winters.”

Somerville has directed the University Choir since his arrival at Harvard in 1990.

He said he counts among his greatest achievements the endowment of his chair, accomplished last year during the Church’s capital campaign, and the creation of a Choral Fellows program in 2001. The program consists of an elite group of ten singers who perform at Morning Prayers and represent the choir at special events.

Somerville said the Choral Fellows program, which is modeled after the choruses at elite British universities, has fostered an increased level of professionalism in the group.

“We’ve made a number of CD recordings, we’ve traveled, we’ve worked with a number of distinguished guest conductors,” Somerville said. “The quality has consistently increased.”

“Having come from a tradition where the choral groups of Oxford and Cambridge are regarded as being professional, that always seemed a do-able thing at Harvard,” said Somerville.

Somerville said he was unsure how the search for his successor will proceed.

“I imagine a committee will be appointed,” Somerville said. “Whether it can happen by next fall I don’t know.”

Somerville suggested that an interim director may be required.

Pusey Minister of the Memorial Church Peter J. Gomes, who will play a leading role in the search for a new choirmaster, was in England and could not be reached for comment.

Somerville notified the choir of his decision over the group’s e-mail list Sunday afternoon.

While sad to see him go, choir members said they are grateful for his efforts.

“He’s done a lot to turn the program around,” said choir member Marisa W. Green ’04. “[When Somerville arrived] the choir was falling apart at the seams. He brought it to national and international prominence.”

“He’s leaving on a very high note,” said Laura S. Manion ’05.

—Staff Writer Andrew C. Campbell can be reached at acampbel@fas.harvard.edu.