“Esse quam videri” — to be, rather than to seem.
This is the lesson taught to the thousands of BYU choir members who sang under the direction of Rosalind Hall during the past 21 years. Hall will retire at the end of this school year, concluding her time as the director of both BYU Men’s Chorus and Concert Choir.
“A better ward choir director”
Hall grew up in a small town in Wales. She said that music was always present in her home, “but it wasn’t sophisticated music by any means.”
At the age of six, she begged her parents for piano lessons. They found a teacher who lived down the street. Thus began her music education, which she continued throughout grade school.
When she was 17, it was time for her to choose what she would study at university. She had it narrowed down to two choices: music or law. But after a summer internship at her uncle’s law office, she said she quickly realized that she was more well-suited for music.
Hall attended the University of London, the University of Edinburgh and London’s Royal Academy of Music, where she studied voice and piano and received a bachelor of music degree in 1977.
After 12 years of marriage, it was Tim Hall, Rosalind’s husband, who first suggested moving overseas to continue his education at Brigham Young University.
“He applied to BYU and I started thinking about what I was going to do here for 2 years,” Hall said. “I thought, ‘Well if I’m going to be there at BYU, I may as well do something — I may as well do a degree.’”
Hall remembers looking down the list of music degrees offered at BYU, and when she saw choral conducting and thought, “I’ll do that! That looks like fun!”
“I had never had a conducting lesson,” she said. “I conducted my ward and stake choir, which I loved doing, so I thought, ‘When I go home, I will be a much better ward choir director.’”
Upon finishing her master of music in 1993, she spent seven years teaching music to middle- and high-schoolers at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. In 1999 she received a call that Mack Wilberg had been called as the assistant conductor for the Tabernacle Choir, and she was asked to take his position at BYU for one year while they looked for a permanent replacement.
When the Daily Universe first interviewed Hall about what it was like to fill Wilberg’s shoes, she said, “I cannot fill Dr. Wilberg’s shoes; I will not attempt to wear his shoes. I will wear my own, and mine will have high heels.”
At the end of the year, Hall was asked to apply for the job. She did not have a doctorate, which was supposedly an important qualification for the position. When asked if she was willing to go get a Ph.D. in order to meet the requirements, she refused.
“The great news for me was they decided to give me the job anyway,” she said, chuckling. “That led to 20 more absolutely glorious years here at BYU.”
“The greatest faculty member BYU has ever had”
From her Welch accent to her energetic “cross-brain” activities, Hall has been well-beloved by her students. So much so that RateMyProfessors.com has included Hall on their annual list of top university professors five times in the last seven years, including the national fourth-place ranking in 2013.
CJ Madsen, a graduate student in the choral conducting program, has worked closely with Hall since joining Men’s Chorus as a freshman.
“I think Sister Hall is the greatest faculty member BYU has ever had,” Madsen said. Hall was also named one of the 300 best professors in the country by the Princeton Review in 2014.
Hall has led both of her choirs through the production of full-length studio albums. Concert Choir’s solo album “Beautiful River” was released in 2005, followed that same year by Men’s Chorus’s release of “Praise Him.” Men’s Chorus released an album of missionary-themed hymns in 2017 entitled “Set Apart” in response to the missionary age change announcement. This album was made available for free download.
In addition to recorded studio albums, Hall has overseen the creation of the first music videos in the history of BYU Choirs, including a Men’s Chorus collaboration with BYU Vocal Point of “Nearer My God To Thee” that has over 26 million views on Youtube.
Hall has been involved with a number of major productions, specifically with Men’s Chorus. She has guided the group through performances with high-profile artists including Kristin Chenoweth, Alex Boye and Ben Rector.
“The perfect exemplar of a disciple of Jesus Christ”
Andrew Crane, fellow choral professor and director of BYU Singers, said beyond her tradition of musical excellence, Hall is leaving behind a legacy of using choral music as a vehicle to teach students to be better people.
“It’s never just making music for music’s sake, but you learn things about life by being in choir with Sister Hall,” Crane said. “I think that’s what most people will remember about her, is that she inspired people to live better.”
During her 21 years of daily choir rehearsals, Hall has influenced thousands of students with her life lessons and gospel-focused insights.
“She has helped me increase my faith and find God in the music I sing,” said Rosie Morreale, an elementary education major and current member of Concert Choir. “She has treated every one of her students as if they were her own child, and that is something I will never forget.”
Madsen said that in addition to giving him opportunities to advance his career, Hall has touched his heart.
“She is both demanding and loving. You feel like she will always find something to improve in the sound, but at the end of every rehearsal you feel like she loves you and is excited for you,” he said. “She is the perfect exemplar of a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Choir members from past years also remember Hall’s authoritative, yet kind teaching style.
“She made it known from the beginning that she had high expectations for our group collectively, and individually,” said Justin Smith, a member of Men’s Chorus from 1999-2000. “She didn’t waste time talking about how important this was to her or what a wonderful opportunity it was — instead, she pulled out music and we got to work.”
Kalina Stokes, a music education major and current Concert Choir member, emphasized Hall’s resemblance to the Savior.
“Sister Hall radiates the light of Christ from her entire being,” Stokes said. “In her eyes you are important, valued and capable of accomplishing anything you commit to. I will be forever changed by her example and the love I feel in her presence.”
COVID-19 and an early farewell
Hall’s final concerts with the choirs were scheduled for the end of March but have been canceled due to the university’s COVID-19 precautions.
In her email announcing the cancellations to the choirs, Hall said, “I am saddened beyond words, but know that this is the right decision.”
Mallory Millett, a graduate student in Human Development and member of Concert Choir, expressed via Instagram her disappointment in not giving Hall that one last concert.
“This women is incredible , and I’m still defeated that these strange circumstances robbed us of the chance to give her the amazing career-ending concert she deserves,” Millett said on her Instagram story. “But in true Sister Hall fashion, she reminded us not to dwell on what we’ve lost, but to be grateful for what we’ve had.”
The Men’s Chorus final concert, which was planned for March 28 in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, was going to include a performance with over 700 Men’s Chorus alumni.
Though the performance has been canceled, Men’s Chorus alumni members continue to raise funds for the Men’s Chorus Endowment Fund, which will allow Men’s Chorus to travel to some of the many prestigious concerts and festivals to which they receive invitations each year — something they have previously been unable to do because of the immense cost of transporting more than 200 men across the country.
The endowment fund must reach one million dollars before it can be used, so alumni and Hall herself are encouraging those who have been involved with Men’s Chorus in any way, as singers or listeners, to give generously.
Hall had included one of her all-time favorite songs in each of the programs for both the Concert Choir and Men’s Chorus performances. Concert Choir prepared to sing “Prayer of the Middle Ages” by Howard Hanson, and Men’s Chorus prepared “Choose Something Like a Star” by Randall Thompson.
Come August 2020, Brent Wells will fill the opening in the choral department as director of Men’s Chorus and Concert Choir. Wells will also teach courses in the choral conducting curriculum.
“There is no one that can ever ‘replace’ Sister Hall,” Crane said in an email to students. “Our only aim is to carry on the tradition of excellence that she has embodied for so many years.”
As for Hall, she says she is optimistic about what the future holds. She looks forward to spending time with her husband before they get “too old to enjoy it.”
“As I move on to the next chapter of my life, I am not sad,” she said. “I am grateful.”
In her closing remarks to the members of Concert Choir and Men’s Chorus, she shared the following thoughts about what would have been the final piece in the Men’s Chorus concert — a song entitled, “The Impossible Dream.”
“A young woman who came from Wales who had not very sophisticated music education to begin with, was given incredible opportunities and has had this marvelous experience with all of you,” she said through tears. “I am so grateful for it.”
“Honestly, that’s what this has all been — ‘an impossible dream.’”