Remembering Betty Bertaux

[ OCTOBER, 2014 ]  Far too soon, but peacefully and in the tender care of people she cherished, our beloved Founder and friend, Betty Bertaux, passed away on Friday, October 10th. All of us who loved her—and there are so many people who did—are reeling, but so grateful to have had her in our lives.

CCM founder, Dr. Betty Bertaux
Entreating the audience to sing along at a CCM annual concert, 2013.
Betty Bertaux spent her life making music, in every possible form—as performer, conductor, teacher, composer, creator of curriculum, founder of Children’s Chorus of Maryland and School of Music, and mentor to so many other musicians and teachers. She was a creative force, and she brought that same vital, exuberant energy to everything she did—writing, cooking, traveling, adventuring, and exploring the world. She was always ready to learn something new, tackle the next challenge, and share her discoveries with the people around her. Even after her diagnosis, her friends marveled at the creativity and positive spirit she brought to the treatment process, finding ways to elevate even chemotherapy to an affirming ritual and a kind of art. To her final days, she was always ready with a laugh, greeting everyone with a brilliant smile and a sparkle in her eye, unfailingly gracious and loving, and conscious of the experience she was creating for those around her. Words are not adequate to say how much she will be missed.

Renowned Composer, Arranger and Educator

CCM founder, Dr. Betty Bertaux
Speaking at a conference with former CCM Artistic Director
Mairee Pantzer.
An authority on vocal and musical development in children, Betty was internationally recognized both for her expertise as a pedagogue, and for her extensive contribution to choral music literature. Her compositions and arrangements for children’s voices, published as the Betty Bertaux Choral Series by Boosey and Hawkes and by 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.

In addition to her own contributions to the repertoire, Betty also commissioned significant works for children’s chorus by other composers, including “Miracles” by Theodore Morrison and “A Midge of Gold” by Elam Sprenkle.

Betty received her Master of Music with Kodály Emphasis from Holy Names College in 1975, where she also taught Kodály methodology and supervised student teaching. In 1992 she received a Masters of Music in Composition from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, continuing her post graduate education with studies in Gordon Music Learning Theory, Voice Care, and Musicianship Pedagogy. In 2001 she was awarded the Doctor of Music Education Honoris Causa by VanderCook College of Music.

Children's Chorus of Maryland and School of Music

CCM founder, Dr. Betty Bertaux
Concert Choir watches Lyric choir rehearse with Betty at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, 2013.

In 1976, Betty founded the Children’s Chorus of Maryland and School of Music (CCM). Seeking initially to provide her own musically-talented child with a fulfilling choral experience, she started the chorus with only six children, and built the organization into a thriving music conservatory with three performing choruses and ten graded levels of instruction. Now in its 39th year of operation, Children’s Chorus of Maryland has served as a prototype for community children’s choruses and as a beacon in the field of music literacy education.

CCM founder, Dr. Betty Bertaux
With Mairee Pantzer (left) and Patti Amato, 2010.
Colleague and friend Patricia Amato, a pianist and vocal coach at Towson University, who has also been the chorus’ accompanist since 1981, says, “Her living legacy are the children of the Children’s Chorus of Maryland and the continuing generations of children. She had respect for the children and the art of the music that she encouraged them to make. Her former students are all over the country and the world. The effect she had was far-reaching and broad.”

In a 1986 interview with the The Evening Sun, Betty said, “A singer has a responsibility to be musically literate just as much as an orchestral member. 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.”

Wide-reaching Influence on Children's Choral Music Education

CCM founder, Dr. Betty Bertaux
Betty with a student during the "Sing for Success" project.
In addition to her work as both Artistic and Education Director for CCM, Betty was a member of the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory, Holy Names College, and Baltimore County Public Schools Program for the Gifted and Talented. She was frequently invited to be a featured presenter at state, national and international conferences, and to serve as a guest conductor, choral adjudicator and vocal clinician for children’s choirs and festivals.

In 2001, under her initiative, CCM parented the new American Kodály Institute, housed at Loyola College, a training facility for music educators and choral conductors. She initiated the “Sing for Success” research project in 2008, documenting the effect of music literacy training on academic success of children in public schools. In recognition of more than 50 years of contribution to the field of music education, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Organization of American Kodály Educators in 2011.

CCM founder, Dr. Betty Bertaux
Betty was legendary among her students and colleagues for her combination of academic rigor, lively wit and a playful spirit. A hallmark of her teaching was her ability to convey challenging material and foster high expectations, while also keeping the learning experience light-hearted and joyful. She was adamant that children thrive on high standards, quality music, evocative texts, and respect for their capabilities. CCM faculty member Lauren McDougle sums up Betty’s deep regard for her students, as she recollects the moment that Betty told her, “I know they’re just children, but we must never underestimate the depth of their souls.”

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