“Music Man” of St. Norbert College, Dudley Birder, dies at 95

Dudley Birder, a legendary figure and the originator of the community chorale at St. Norbert College, has passed away.

On Saturday, De Pere College made a statement about Birder’s passing. At 95 years old, he was.

Birder, affectionately known as “Music Man,” founded the theater company in 1962 and participated in every production as a producer, director, or musical director until 2017.

He started the college’s chorale in 1974 while serving as a music professor there since 1958.

“Everyone in the St. Norbert College family mourns the loss of our friend and colleague Dudley Birder,” said St. Norbert College interim president Thomas Kunkle.

“Indeed, for many Dudley was synonymous with St. Norbert. More than anyone he elevated the modern profile of the college and made thousands and thousands of people around the world aware of it as our foremost cultural ambassador.”

Following a renovation project that turned the church into a performance space used for Dudley Birder Chorale rehearsals, St. Norbert changed the name of St. Boniface Church to Dudley Birder Hall in 2013.

The 150-voice chorale’s members are between the ages of 15 and 65, and it is well-known for its All Saints Day and Holiday Pops concerts each year. More than 30 communities in northeast Wisconsin are represented in the chorale.

When Birder officially retired in 2018, he also resigned from his position as the chorale’s director.

Despite spending more than 50 years on campus and retiring from teaching in 1993, Birder continued to work until he was 90 from his office in the Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts.

Dudley Birder Family

“I’ve said this many times, I’ve never had a day that I didn’t want to go to work,” Birder told the Green Bay Press-Gazette in 2017. “Every day was not always wonderful, but I’ve always enjoyed everything I’ve done, even my teaching.”

A $1 million endowment is in place to keep the chorale going forever, and it gives scholarships to teachers and students each year.

“The Dudley Birder Chorale and Music Theatre contributed immensely to the cultural life of Northeast Wisconsin and greatly enhanced our collective quality of life. Other institutions tried to lure him away, but for Dudley, this place was home,” Kunkel said.

“We will be forever grateful to him for his decades of musicianship, friendship, and dedication, and our hearts go out to the Birder family.”

A briefing on Dudley Birder’s professional life.

Since 1958, Dudley Birder has taught music at St. Norbert College. From 1961 to 2017, he directed the music theater there as its artistic director.

Birder established the chorale that currently bears his name in 1974, and after 44 years, he officially retired in 2018. 2018 saw the chorale name Birder’s longtime assistant Kent Paulsen as its next creative leader.

The chorale, which was founded in 1974, performs three to four concerts a year, generally with an orchestra. Adult singers from more than 30 communities in northeast Wisconsin form the chorale, a musical ensemble that meets regularly to perform choral masterpieces. Members might be as young as 15 or as elderly as elders. Members must pass an audition based on their ability to sing well and play the piano.

In honor of Dudley Birder’s 80th birthday, the chorale hired Randol Alan Bass to write Psalm 96 in 2007. The chorale awards scholarships each year to teachers and students who demonstrate excellence in choral music. The chorale has a $1 million endowment in place to ensure its continued existence.

African Sanctus

The community’s support of the endowment allowed the chorale to enrich northeast Wisconsin’s cultural landscape with beautiful vocal music, and for that the chorale is grateful.

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The group takes pride in releasing fresh music first. With the help of a generous donor, we were able to bring the Croydon Citadel Band from England to Green Bay so they could dazzle listeners with their brass virtuosity. It introduces American audiences to the “African Sanctus” by British composer David Fanshawe. At Carnegie Hall, the chorale gave two performances: one in 1993 and one in 1996.

Dudley Birder’s wife.

Dudley Birder was married to his beloved wife Mary. His dear wife Mary passed away in the year 2008. Dudley has two children; James and Alicia Birder.