John C. “Doc” Wabrick, Miami University professor emeritus of music, died Jan 12. at the age of 82.
During a career at Miami spanning from 1964 to 1988, Wabrick conducted the Miami Men’s Glee Club, Collegiate Chorale, Choraliers and numerous musicals for Miami’s department of theater. Alumni and current members of many of these groups attended Wabrick’s standing-room-only funeral in Oxford Jan. 16.
Scores of alumni and a handful of current members of the Glee Club were on hand in the back of the room to sing “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace” and “A Parting Blessing,” both standards of the group. Wabrick introduced “A Parting Blessing” as the regular closing for Glee Club concerts.
Among those in attendance was Bobby Goldwater, a 1974 graduate of Miami who sang in the Glee Club and served as sports editor and editor in chief of The Miami Student.
Goldwater said Wabrick’s students addressed him with “affection and admiration” when using his various nicknames, chief among them “Doc,” and sometimes “Chief.”
Goldwater recounted Wabrick’s gifts as a conductor, including his spontaneity.
“In concert, you couldn’t take your eyes off him, literally. We might have learned a piece a certain way during rehearsals, but that never meant that he was going to conduct it the same way in concert, and quite often, he didn’t,” Goldwater said. “You better be watching or, without warning, you had an unintended solo.”
Rod Nimtz, director of Miami’s Voice of America Learning Center, sang and accompanied the Glee Club on piano under Wabrick’s baton for over a decade. Nimtz said as a conductor, Wabrick was highly attuned to the mood of both the audience and performers.
“He responded to the audience, to the hall, to the mood of the group … with a very slight nuance of his hands, he could indicate a chance of the shape of the sound, the tempo, dynamics,” Nimtz said. “In the inspiration of the moment, of the place, of the audience, of the performers, it could all change.”
Wabrick paid Jeremy Jones, current director of the Glee Club and Collegiate Chorale, a two-hour visit during Jones’ first semester teaching at Miami in 2010.
“You picked up on the sense really quickly that he cared about the conversation,” Jones said. “He desired to really get to know me a little bit, not just about what my plans were for the Glee Club.”
Jones said in the coming months Glee Club will find ways to remember and honor Wabrick.
“It will be something that will resonate across the generations of alumni who sang under him, came after him, and current Glee Clubbers, that would enhance … the brotherhood of song that this group embodies,” Jones said. “It transcends those that are present and those that have come before us.”
Jones and Nimtz said the current Glee Club and the group under Wabrick have much in common, including a proclivity for practical jokes.
“Once in awhile, we’d be doing a song a capella, Doc would motion for us to go up a half step and we’d go down a half step,” Nimtz said. “Sometimes they would put things in his folders, he would open his folder for a serious piece and find a centerfold there. The guys could see his reaction, but the audience never could.”
Wabrick’s bond with the group included moments of seriousness as well as levity, Goldwater recalled.
Returning from a 1971 European tour, the first of eight Wabrick led, the group gave a performance in Hall Auditorium including one of Wabrick’s favorite pieces, Bruckner’s “Os Justi,” in which Wabrick was overcome with emotion.
“As we began ‘Os Justi,’ in the middle of this performance, everything became perfect,” Goldwater said. “Without warning, his eyes and then ours filled with tears. And he dropped his hands and stopped conducting. And we kept singing, together, as one. We had somehow achieved a musical connection that none of us will ever forget. And, for once, we had touched him as he had touched us … he was so proud of us.”
Wabrick continued to conduct the Glee Club at alumni reunions every three years, most recently in 2010. In 2007, in an interview for a documentary being made in advance of the Glee Club’s 100th anniversary, Wabrick shared one of his familiar life lessons:
“There’s a serenity in calmness and peace, isn’t there? If you don’t know that, you better start. Do what you have to do and always give yourself the chance to say, ‘Aha!’ and exhale. Think about what’s really important. You only get one turn around. No, I’m not saying that to be sad. If you keep growing, that’s wonderful, because the knowledge that you’ve accumulated makes you a better person, you hope.”