David Rollo, RIP; memorial service Saturday, June 24, 2017

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David Marshall Rollo, a leader in Tulsa choral music for over a half-century, a friend and mentor to many, passed away on April 25, 2017, at the age of 74, of complications from pneumonia. I was blessed to know David for 40 years as his student at Holland Hall, as a singer under his direction at Coventry Chorale, and as a friend.

David_Rollo-2009.jpg

David will be remembered by family and friends this Saturday, June 24, 2017, at 11:00 a.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 501 S. Cincinnati, in downtown Tulsa. David's former students at Holland Hall will perform de Victoria's O Magnum Mysterium during the prelude to the service, at approximately 10:45 am. During the service, the Trinity Choir will perform "The Lord Is My Shepherd," the setting of Psalm 23 by the late Trinity choirmaster and organist Thomas Matthews. (Holland Hall alumni wishing to sing O Magnum Mysterium during the prelude are requested to arrive at the Trinity choir room (in the basement) by 10:15 to rehearse. The Trinity choir will rehearse at 10.)

David_Rollo-HH_Early.jpgA Cleveland native, David came to the University of Tulsa for college, earning a bachelor's and master's degrees in vocal performance, under the direction of the legendary Arthur Hestwood. David toured for a year with Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians. In 1967, he joined the faculty of Holland Hall, serving as vocal music instructor, chairman of the fine arts department, and director of student activities, retiring in 1996. He also served for a time as director of the Tulsa Community Chorus at Tulsa Junior College. In 1982, David founded Coventry Chorale, a mixed-voice chorus performing classical and sacred music, serving as its artistic director and conductor until the Chorale's final concert in 2005. In the 1970s, David was choir director at Christ United Methodist Church; he joined the choir of Trinity Episcopal Church in 1980 and remained a Trinity parishoner from that point onward. David recorded two albums with his choirs: Holland Hall Concert Chorus, Standing Ovation, 1977; Coventry Chorale, The Lord Is My Shepherd: A Tribute to Thomas Matthews, 2002.

I first encountered Mr. Rollo as a freshman, a mediocre alto saxophonist in Holland Hall's then-tiny instrumental music ensemble, and then as a sophomore in his music theory class. His office, right next to the Commons, was a favorite hangout for many students, particularly those involved in music. Sometime during my sophomore year, I went to see his office to see him about tickets for the school musical. He complimented my speaking voice and asked if I'd ever thought about trying out for Concert Chorus. I hadn't, but at his encouragement, I did, and I made the cut. The following year I made it into the school's twelve-voice Madrigal Singers.

David Rollo believed that high school students were capable of singing great music beautifully, and under his tutelage we sang Mozart's "Sparrow Mass," settings of Te Deum by Mozart and Haydn, Mendelssohn's "O for the Wings of a Dove," Bach's Cantata BWV 159, Benjamin Britten's setting of Hodie Christus Natus Est, Randall Thompson's "Last Words of David" and "Frostiana," English and French and Italian madrigals, and, of course, the anthems of Trinity organist and choirmaster Thomas Matthews. We did popular and modern music, too. We sang a fall concert (popular) and a spring concert (classical), at Lessons and Carols, and out in the community -- for example, at St. Aidan's for the ordination of the school's chaplain, Father Ibn Masud Syedullah, which gave us an introduction to Anglican chant. Is there any Tulsa high school today, public or private, singing the challenging repertoire that David Rollo taught his students?

There may have been a few students in the chorus that had personal vocal training, but for most of us what we learned about singing, David Rollo taught us during our hour-long rehearsal every other day. He taught us to enunciate, to use our diaphragms, to produce head tones and sing without vibrato.

David opened nearly every Holland Hall Concert Chorus rehearsal with O Magnum Mysterium, a polyphonic setting of a Christmas responsorial chant by 16th century Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria. The song was always a part of Holland Hall's annual service of Lessons and Carols at Trinity, but during rehearsals David used O Magnum to teach us to tune our notes, to listen to one another, to blend our voices, and to taper every phrase. He would often have us mix ourselves, so that no one was standing next to anyone singing the same part. Here is a recording of the piece by the 1977 edition of the Holland Hall Concert Chorus, conducted by David Rollo:

After high school graduation, I sang for Mr. Rollo in the Tulsa Junior College Community Chorus. I remember a Fourth of July concert on the west bank of the river, performing Peter J. Wilhousky's arrangement of "Battle Hymn of the Republic." I found a news article from 1993 saying that David had served as an adjunct instructor at TJC for 48 semesters.

After college, my wife and I joined Coventry Chorale. David stretched the abilities of this amateur group with Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil (a cappella and in Russian), requiem masses by Mozart, Fauré, Duruflé, and Saint-Saëns; Puccini's Messa di Gloria; and works by modern Oklahoma composers such as TU Professor Joseph Rivers ("Tempests Round Us Gather"), Louis Ballard ("The Gods Will Hear"), and Thomas Matthews. Although Trinity was home, Coventry performed at Episcopal churches in Ponca City, Ada, Pryor, and Okmulgee, at OK Mozart, a concert of Gilded Age music connected with an exhibition at Philbrook, for the centennial celebrations of Holy Family Cathedral, and newly-composed Shabbat service music at Temple Israel.

One of my favorite concerts to sing involved a series of a cappella Anglican anthems that David had selected from renaissance composers like Thomas Tallis and William Byrd and settings of old songs by 20th century composers ("Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" by Elizabeth Poston, "Faire Is the Heaven" by William Henry Harris).

On September 11, 2002, David organized and led Tulsa's participation in the Rolling Requiem, a worldwide memorial for the victims of the 9/11 attacks, beginning in each time zone around the world at 9:46 am local time, circling the globe with Mozart's "Requiem." Over a thousand people crowded into Trinity for the service. The following year Faure's Requiem was performed, and the tradition continued for some years after for Trinity's annual 9/11 remembrance.

It was through David that my wife and I became acquainted with Tulsa Boy Singers, and years later our sons would get their start in musical education and performance with TBS, providing a solid foundation for their involvement in instrumental music.

David was deeply involved in the life of Trinity Episcopal Church. He was a longtime choir member, served as vestryman and headed the liturgy and worship committee, and in later years served at the church's reception desk during the week. For a few years, I had the joy of singing alongside David, at his invitation, as one of the Wise Men at Trinity's Epiphany procession, singing the Willcocks/Rutter Matin Responsory ("I Look from Afar").

But it's not enough to talk about David's musical accomplishments. David's genuine warmth and good humor, particularly his love of groan-worthy puns, are an essential part of what made him unforgettable to those who sang for him and caused him to become not merely a teacher and conductor but a genuine friend. If no one else remembered your birthday, you could count on getting a card from David.

David was a prolific communicator, emailing the latest terrible pun or shaggy-dog story to his long list of friends. He was vocal about his political opinions as well, forwarding articles to his friends, and a frequent writer of letters to the editor. From time to time, David would send me a story idea or a comment on my latest article. His political opinions might be classified as common-sense conservative: Supporting the troops and expressions of patriotism, opposing public funding for dams in the Arkansas River, supporting the idea of moving election day to the weekend. Our last email exchange was in mid-April: He wrote, with disdain, about the news that MIT Press was publishing a book called Communism for Kids.

Last fall David wrote some topical limericks that were published in the Tulsa World:

We've gone through election muck,
For 160 days we are stuck
With a mayor whose term
Ends in December, that's firm.
We wish G.T. Bynum good luck!

The Donald (with last name of Trump)
Deserves a good kick in the rump.
For he was recorded
Making comments so sordid.
Now Trump really looks like a chump.

David's friends knew of his health challenges stretching back for over 20 years, the effect, one suspected, of decades of smoking, overeating, living alone, and generally not taking care of his health. He amazed everyone by battling through some ferocious illnesses and was with us longer than we dared hope -- but still gone too soon.

Requiescat in pace, Señor Notas.

ONE MORE THING: Here's a memory of David's ability to think on his feet from that November 1989 concert of American music and Coventry Chorale's performance of Louis Ballard's "The Gods Will Hear." This was a complex piece of music, with multiple rhythms, unusual instrumentation, and many tempo and key changes. The concert was being recorded for later broadcast on KWGS. At one point, David, while conducting, had to play a bullroarer -- a carved piece of wood at the end of a string that makes a load roaring noise when you whirl the rope rapidly in a circle. During a particularly rapid passage, David made a quick page turn and pulled the middle pages right off the staples and off the stand. The chorale tried to continue but soon got lost, sounding like a phonograph winding down when the power is suddenly cut. David cut us off, retrieved the prodigal pages from the floor, told us to go back to a clean starting point a few pages earlier, and counted us in. When I listened to the broadcast several months later, I braced myself in anticipation of the crash, but the edit was seamless.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 21, 2017 10:15 PM.

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