Celebrating a musical legacy
St. Norbert College announces ‘A Requiem for Dudley’ concert
By William Kopp
Dudley Birder may not be a household name for all of the Green Bay area, but many of the students that walked through the doors of St. Norbert College (SNC) over the last 60 plus years can acknowledge the legacy he left within those walls.
Birder was born in 1927 in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Wanda and Cecil Birder, and that’s where the footprint began.
He pursued doctoral studies at the University of Minnesota and further studies at UCLA, beginning his teaching career at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada.
After four years there, he accepted his position at SNC and the rest, as they say, is history.
He founded The Chamber Singers, The Swinging Knights and the Collegiate Chorale — renamed the Dudley Birder Chorale in 1999 — and even had the distinct honor of being a repeat guest conductor of Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Birder “retired” in the ‘90s, but continued to do music theater and the chorale throughout the 2000s until 2018 when he officially retired past the age of 90.
“He was a well loved and well-known figure in the music and theater community for over 60 years,” said Director of the Dudley Birder Chorale Kent Paulsen.
Birder passed away in November 2022 at the age of 95, leaving behind the legacy of his creations and his teachings.
With Birder’s official retirement in 2018 and a need for a new director, Paulsen — Birder’s long-time assistant — was named the new artistic director of the chorale.
“I knew Dudley since 1995 when I first auditioned for him and he didn’t take me — he told me later that it was only because I couldn’t dance,” Paulsen added. “He went from being my director to being a mentor to being one of my closest friends — in many ways he’s like another father to me. In the last years he was working I was his assistant and co-conspirator in all activities. I was so honored that he asked me to continue his legacy and take over when he retired for the sixth or seventh time.”
After being around for such a long time and affecting so many with his hard work, Birder’s passing has left an impact for current students and alumni alike of SNC.
“It’s a huge loss just because it carries with it so many memories and so much fondness for hundreds if not thousands of people who have sung for him or seen his performances or been a part of it,” Paulsen said. “He was a part of all of us and, from the beginning, everything that he did shaped all the things we do now.”
Every year for more than 40 years, Birder would conduct an All Saints Day concert.
In the Catholic Church, All Saints Day is the time when people remember all of their loved ones who have passed in the last year.
“Almost every year he would conduct one of his favorite pieces of music — a requiem — and almost every great classical composer, and even some not so great ones, wrote a requiem,” Paulsen added. “[A requiem] is traditionally a funeral mass for the dead, but really became much more a meta-view of what life means and what happens to a person after they’re gone and preserving the memories of people. And so, as we would rehearse over years and years and years he would say, if something was really beautiful, ‘oh I love that song, I want that at my funeral’ and over the years that I was his assistant I took notes and all of those songs that he said were his favorites we compiled into one big requiem concert. It’s mostly a movement from all of his favorite requiems all put together and we called it ‘A Requiem for Dudley.’”
Those attending the concert can expect to hear some Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, Brahms and many other composers, as well as an arrangement from Birder himself.
“During the concert there will be several people that have sung with him for decades that will offer short tributes as well as photos not seen of him for decades available in the lobby,” Paulsen said. “All the proceeds will go to support the Birder Chorale and will be used in keeping his legacy alive in chorale music.
“I can think of no greater way to honor a man who has spent his life making music with other people than in making music together in celebration of all that he was for all of us.”
The concert will be held April 1 at 2 p.m. in the Weidner Center, 2420 Nicolet Dr., Green Bay, and tickets will be $15.50 for students and $32.50-$44 for adults.
Those looking to attend the event can purchase tickets at snc.edu/go/requiem-for-dudley and visit snc.edu/go/weidner-parking-directions for information on event parking.