Saturday, May 15, 2010

Memories of George C. Hildebrant

I attended a 90th birthday party today, for George C. Hildebrant, the man who directed my high school choir, then called the Napa High School - Junior College Choir.  We should all do this well when we're 90.  He uses a walker, but he stood up and conducted us in singing several pieces.  Most of the people who came had sung under "Uncle Hildy" during his tenure as choral director at Napa High, which began in 1947 and ended in 1966. 

The most amazing and charming event of the afternoon was the appearance of the current Napa High School Chamber Choir.  My friends who organized this told me that the current choral director, Travis Rogers, called them and asked if the kids could come and perform!  And they're a Really Good a capella chorus - beautifully blended, singing as with one voice, everything memorized.  (Some of you who read this will have heard the choirs from Mt. Eden High School, at the Paramount in Oakland; the Napa kids are their equal.)  I looked at their web site, Napa High Choral Boosters, and they're supported by what looks like a pretty standard 501(c)(3) - because, of course, music is a "frill," which we can't afford to support in our schools!  I Googled them,  and they've won international competitions.  They sang a Durufle piece; their director told us they had performed it in Paris, at Notre Dame - a by-invitation trip they took over spring break this year.  They performed two pieces accompanied by a young man with a hand drum; apparently they travel with their own percussionist.

With the current Napa High chorus, we had over sixty years of high school choral tradition represented in that room.  Everybody was crying.  Everybody's life was changed by it.  I can still sing the Hallelujah Chorus from memory (soprano anyway) because of him; we memorized everything.  And we were good - we won choral competitions too.  I still remember the one at UOP in Stockton, with massed choruses walking down the stairs after the final performance, all singing the seven-fold Amen from The Lord Bless You and Keep You, echoing in the roof.

And it all began with George C. Hildebrant.  Roughly a hundred people (not counting the high school singers!) came to this event, from Montana, from Ohio, from New York City, and from all over California, to pay respects to this man who flew bombers over Germany in World War II, and came back from a POW camp to teach generations of people how to sing together.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Hildy.  And as many more as you can make.


  1. Anonymous9:43 PM

    Hi Karen,

    I too am a NHS choir alumni(64-65) and I can still sing the 1st tenor part for the Hallelujah Chorus from memory. I am saddened that I have not been able to attend any of the celebrations of the the man who I have always called the 2nd most influential person in my life behind my father. He was a truly remarkable person and one that noone wanted to disapoint. I have to laugh at the precussionist comment, the last year we went to UOP, I had taken a set of bongos, I played in a couple of our songs.. on our album (yes vinyl) I got credit for playing the Banjos, oops.

    I hope I get to Napa on my next trip west and will attempt to get an audience with Uncle Hildy.

    Jerry Poole

  2. Jerry,
    Yes, we can't forget any of that, can we? Nor should we. (As for the bongos - gotta watch those proofreaders!)

    Are you on Donna (Stewart) Coloman's mailing list for these reunions? Let me know if not and I'll send you her email address.