Bowie State awards posthumous degree to slain student

Betty G. Bertaux, Children's Chorus of Md. founder

Betty G. Bertaux, founder of the Children's Chorus of Maryland, has died at 75.

Betty G. Bertaux, a composer and music educator who was the founder of the Children's Chorus of Maryland that grew to become a prototype for community children's choruses, died Oct. 10 at her home in Naples, Fla., of pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

"Her living legacy are the children of the Children's Chorus of Maryland and the continuing generations of children," said Patricia McKewen Amato, a vocal coach and pianist at Towson University who has been the chorus' accompanist since 1981.

"She had respect for the children and the art of the music that she encouraged them to make," said Ms. Amato. "Her former students are all over the country and the world. The effect she had was far-reaching and broad."

Mairee D. Pantzer, who was artistic director of the Children's Chorus of Maryland from 2006 to 2011, called her "an incredibly talented person."

"Betty was a good singer, had a great ear, and was a good composer and conductor, and an excellent storyteller," said Ms. Pantzer. "She was always branching off to try something new. She liked to explore new sounds and was always looking for freshness."

"An authority on vocal and musical development in children, Ms. Bertaux was internationally recognized both for her expertise as a pedagogue and for her extensive contribution to choral music literature," said Andrea Burgoyne, who is operations director for the chorus.

The daughter of Erwin D. Jones, sales manager for the General Shale Brick Co., and Grace Kirby Jones, Betty Grace Jones was born and raised in Knoxville, Tenn., where she graduated from high school.

In 1961, she earned a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Tennessee and later earned a master's degree in music teacher education from Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif.

Ms. Bertaux earned a master's degree in composition in 1992 from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University.

Ms. Bertaux was a member of the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory. She also was working as a music teacher for Baltimore County public schools, but was unhappy with what she felt was the inadequate music instruction her son and other promising singers were receiving in county schools. She started what became the Children's Chorus of Maryland in 1976, with six students in her home.

"A singer has a responsibility to be musically literate just as much as an orchestral member," Ms. Bertaux told The Evening Sun in a 1986 interview. "I thought we needed a children's choir which offered good choral performance but also a solid program of training. Well, you know how they say, 'Somebody ought to do this'? I decided I was going to be the one to do this."

Classes were first held at St. Paul's School and later moved to Towson University's fine arts building and included children as young as first-graders.

"She never talked down to the children and [she] treated them as intelligent, young minds. She always explained why and how things were done. She led by example," said Ms. Amato. "She helped them become musically intelligent adults."

Ms. Bertaux had a graduate degree in the Kodaly method of music instruction, which uses hand signals and "sol-fa" syllables to help young children learn singing and sight reading more easily. It also employs songs that are tailored to young voices.

In 2001, Ms. Bertaux and the Children's Chorus of Maryland established the American Kodaly Institute at Loyola University Maryland, which is a training facility for music educators and choral conductors.

Ms. Bertaux designed a training program that took children from beginning to intermediate classes, then to a training choir, and finally to a 30-member concert choir that traveled throughout the nation and internationally giving public performances.

"Over the years, people have not enjoyed listening to children because they can sound hideous if they aren't handled correctly," she said in The Evening Sun interview. "When people hear a good chorus, they tend to become emotional because they are overcome by a beauty they had not expected."

Ms. Bertaux faced the difficulty of finding suitable music for children, so she commissioned such pieces as "A Midge of Gold," a cycle of songs by Baltimore composer Elam Ray Sprenkle, and "Miracles," by composer Theodore Morrison, who founded the Baltimore Choral Arts Society in 1966.

A noted composer and arranger in her own right, some of the works Ms. Bertaux composed included "Three Riddles" and "Music for Treble Voices."

"Her compositions and arrangements for children's voices, published as the Betty Bertaux Choral Series by Boosey and Hawkes and several other publishers, have been a staple of children's choral music for nearly 40 years, and are known to music educators around the world," said Ms. Burgoyne.

Her choirs have performed locally with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Opera Company and Baltimore Choral Arts Society. They have sung with the Moscow Ballet and in such venues as the White House, Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.

"She taught us a sort of precision and respect in the way we created music together, through breathing techniques, focus, excellent diction and rhythm," said Leanora Saslav, a former student who is a San Francisco publicist. "All of this I took with me as a pianist and a musician, even to this day."

She added that one of Ms. Bertaux's most famous students was Anya Grundmann, who is executive director and producer of music at National Public Radio.

In 1987, Ms. Bertaux, who formerly lived in Freeland and Timonium, left the chorus. She moved to Houston and later joined the faculty of Holy Names University. She returned to the children's chorus in 1999, where she assumed the positions of director and artistic director.

When Ms. Pantzer was named artistic director, Ms. Bertaux stayed on as education director. When Ms. Pantzer stepped down in 2013, Ms. Bertaux remained until a new artistic director was hired and retired in 2014.

"She tried to retire several times, but it never took," said Ramona Galey, her partner of 23 years, who is the chorus' executive director.

In recognition of her contributions in the field of music education during the past 50 years, Ms. Bertaux was awarded the Organization of American Kodaly Educators' Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

In addition to Ms. Galey of Naples, Fla., Ms. Bertaux is survived by her brother, Denton Jones of Dallas; a sister, Dorothy Boggs of Ackworth, Ga; and three grandchildren. Her son, Kevin Bertaux, died in 2012. Her marriage to Allen Bertaux ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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