By Chuck Wiser, I write the words to share what my eyes see and my heart feels
It is with a heavy heart that I begin this week’s Wramblings, as a dear friend David (Dave) Dunbar passed away last week. Although he has left this earth, he will remain in the hearts of all who knew him, sang for him, sang with him, and he will be remembered by the musical legacy he leaves behind. Dave is shown here with his loving family.
Dave Dunbar, formerly Director of Choral Music at Portville Central School, and musical mentor to hundreds of musicians both professional and amateur, is likely directing a choir, perhaps known as what I would call his Heavenly Choir.
Some of my personal association with Dave will be a reiteration of an earlier article of mine but first a little background on his life and story. The similarities, other than a profound love of music, depart significantly after the proximity of our calendared Birth and School histories.
Dave was born October 24, 1945, just two months before my December birth of the same year and graduated from Portville Central School (PCS) the same year as I did from Friendship Central School. Dave passed away peacefully in his sleep June 10, 2022, at the age of 76, in Little River, SC. Dave and Peg moved south in 2014.
Dave’s musical ability showed early in his childhood and his storied musical history developed while a student at PCS and ballooned thereafter. It never really did stop growing.
As a PCS student, Dave went to Cattaraugus County All-County every year from 7th grade through 12th grade. Upon graduation, Dave enrolled in the musical program at Fredonia State Teachers College and completed his graduate studies at both Fredonia and St. Bonaventure and began his teaching career at Ellicottville Central School, leaving there soon after in 1970 to become the Director of Choral Music at PCS.
Dave met his wife Peg at All State Chorus in 1963 and they subsequently attended Fredonia State Teachers College together, both as music majors. Dave and Peg became husband and wife in 1968. Together as a team both served as music and choral directors at St. Bonaventure University from 1969 to 1973, While at PCS they produced and directed several musical productions including: Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific, Man of La Mancha, Oliver, and many others.
Together as a team they served New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) in various capacities for many years.
I don’t think there is any aspect of music that escaped Dave’s adoration, affiliation, and expertise. Dave was a renowned singer with a Tenor voice from early on. He could sing both sweet and mellow, or with the dynamic forcefulness as an operatic singer. This combination was in evidence in a rendition of “Rise Again” performed at Easter Time while soloing for the Genesee Valley Chorus during his tenure there.
As a “musical artist” you might not associate Dave with things like Marching Band choreography, directing, or judging; or athletics, lettering in sports, and then coaching high school baseball. He was also a near scratch golfer, also having played and coached that. He did them all. His life was filled with music, and he helped nurture music in nearly every person he met.
Dave and Peg Dunbar, then and till his passing, have always been a team. They were jointly inducted into the class of 2015 Portville Central School Hall of Fame.
After the original Genesee Valley Chorus director John Molinari left the group the early 80’s the Chorus needed a music director and so did a regional advertisement and search. One of the applicants was David Dunbar, Director of Choral Music at Portville Central School. The search committee met at member Norma Bartlett’s house to interview Dave. I had the honor and good fortune to be on the search committee, and Dave’s experience, personality, and obvious passion for music, made him a clear choice to be the musical director of our group. It is my recollection, although unable to verify before this writing, that we had received some grant funding through the Council on the Arts, so were able to offer a small stipend for a director. I doubt that the amount was what attracted Dave, but rather his love of music, and a desire to share it with an adult group of volunteer singers ranging in talent and ability from near professional to hacks off the street like myself. Unbeknownst to us at the time, along with Dave came a perfect “2 -Fer”, as his wife Peg was also an accomplished alto singer and piano accompanist and teacher. We got “two for” the group in many ways.
My poetic writings are typically generated by some external inspiration. Shortly before meeting Dave, I had been inspired by an airplane trip view from above the clouds, to write a poem. The clouds seemingly slipped by so silently. I wrote the poem about those clouds and other such “silent sounds”. At one of our typical board meetings between the Chorus officers and Dave, the discussion somehow prompted me to mention that I wrote poetry. Dave asked if I would be willing to share some with him as he had dabbled in writing choral music, but it was difficult for him to come up with the words. I later learned that was not truly the case as Dave readily came up with poetic and musical words on his own. Dave put my words to music and by far brought forth more through his music than I ever anticipated was there with words alone. If a picture is worth a “1000 words”, Dave’s music multiplied that worth “many fold”. The first of several published choral pieces “Silent Sounds” was published in 1982 by “Kendor Music Inc”, Delevan, NY.
Dave’s writing style and directing style were in harmony and incorporated singing to “sell a song” by the mood created by the words, and their expression. The singers, their voices, their body language and facial expression, and the overall ambiance of the song creates the atmosphere. Both singers and the audience are caught up in the “mood” of the music. It is then a winner and most memorable.
Dave’s association with NYSSMA, both through having his many students selected to participate, and by his direct participation with the association, afforded the Genesee Valley Chorus the opportunity very few, if any, other “amateur” adult singing groups have been blessed with. We submitted an audition tape and were subsequently invited to perform in concert at the association annual meeting at the Concord Resort Hotel in Kiamesha Lake in the Catskills.
Many chorus members and officers met the challenge and through their efforts, led by Fundraising Committee chair Norma Bartlett, concert attendees, donations, and the subsequent contributions of many local businesses, we were able to charter a bus, travel to, and present at, the Concord. This event was indelibly etched into the hearts and minds of the Chorus members and their “significant others” who were also able to attend. This once in a lifetime opportunity of the GVC members was made possible by Dave and Peg Dunbar and for that, and those memories derived there-from, we will always be indebted to them.
Dave and Peg parted company with the group after a few years and they returned their talents closer to home and created the Keynote Chorus, a similar group to GVC but in Portville, NY. Due to conflicts with my fledgling teacher career at Alfred State College I had parted company with GVC as well but still maintained a link with Dave through our music writing collaboration.
Through Dave’s association with and meeting exposure to the “world renowned” choral music publishing company Shawnee Press/Glory Sound, we submitted several of our songs for their consideration, and subsequent publishing. If you’ve never had the honor of seeing your work published “publicly” it is an awfully fulfilling sense of accomplishment and wonderment at your good fortune. My wife often asks me “Why does it matter to you whether people see your poems or hear your songs?” I wonder how Picasso, Rembrandt, or Norman Rockwell would answer that.
Here is the cover page and lyric from one of the more popular of our published choral songs. Thank You Lord and Trust in Me, previously featured in a column, are the other fairly popular songs. The song Share My Dreams, shown below, is the only one that was not generated initially from one of my poems as had all others, but I was pleased when Dave presented it to me as an unfinished work after he had done the first verse. I guess he got writers block as he wanted my contribution for some of the lyrics. He and Peg and I burned the midnight oil, and had a few beverages, one night to come up with the final piece. This became a popular “wedding song” and I had the honor of teaming up to sing this at a few weddings. Accompanying this is the song Share My Dreams. Please enjoy!
I know this song has been sung by area high schools as one day years ago at Alfred State a fellow professor Herb Zuschin approached me and said “My daughter’s high school chorus is singing a song named Share My Dreams and it says it was written by Chuck Wiser. Isn’t that a strange coincidence that he has the same name?” “No coincidence” I replied, and his eyes got as big as saucers when it dawned on him what I meant.
If you have comments, questions, or suggestions about my “Wramblings” please feel free to contact [email protected] . Thank you for reading!