Pull quote: I’m not willing to give up the performance. It’s too important and I think also if you want to be a good musician and teach well, you’ve got to be a performer. You can’t only talk about it and not do it. Birgette Moyer, music department chair

Cutlines: Birgette Moyer, chair of College of Notre Dame’s music department, divides her musical passions between teaching and performing.

Ralston Hall provides an elegant setting for some the musical events at the College of Notre Dame.

For Birgette Moyer, chair of College of Notre Dame’s music department, a career in music was “a natural thing. I had always done these things since I was a little kid. It seemed like the only thing to do,” she said.

Music ran on both sides of the family, “My mother especially, but there is a lot of music on my dad’s side, although he was not a musician himself,” said Moyer.

“His mother and her two sisters were all opera singers, so he grew up with it though he became an engineer and not a musician himself,” she said.

Moyer, raised in Denmark, got a traditional early start. “I think I was 5 years old when I started piano lessons, and 7 or 8 when I started violin lessons. It’s hard to say what motivated it – I can’t say any one thing,” she mused.

“That’s part of the decision, by the time you decide to start to study it you’ve sort of decided to make it a career. These things are such slow decisions it’s hard to say you made a decision at one point,” she said.

Moyers primary instrument is violin. She also trained in voice and, “everyone had to do piano,” she said. She attended the University of Copenhagen and the Royal Conservatory in Copenhagen. In 1959 she came over to Stanford as a junior for one year on an exchange scholarship. “At the time I thought there were many wonderful opportunities at Stanford. I thought their graduate program was better than their undergraduate,” she added.

She and her husband stayed in the U.S. and Moyer finished her master’s degree in musicology, also at Stanford. Her husband finished his engineering degree and the couple returned to Denmark for a couple of years in the early sixties. While there, Moyer added a master’s degree in music education, with emphasis on performance, “so there was a lot of performance required,” Moyer The couple returned to the United States in 1965 and Moyer returned to Stanford for her doctorate. “Some people are perpetual students,” she said.

She taught part time while raising the couple’s three children. As mom, teacher and student, “it was not so easy. In those years it was 90 percent kids and maybe 10 percent trying to be a grad student. I guess there was never a question, it just seemed like education was a given,” she said.

In 1976 she was hired at CND, but her beginning was far from routine. “I had just been hired as a part-time violin teacher, but the former chair of the department died of a stroke.”

The college was looking for someone to take over the department and Moyer was on the spot. “I was asked to do it on an interim basis for a year, until they could hire somebody,” said Moyer, now in her twenty-second year as chair.

Somewhere along the way a decision was made about a career leaning toward performing or instructing. “It is a kind of a tossup whether one wants to end up focusing on performance or concentrate on teaching,” she said.

“I’m not willing to give up the performance. It’s too important and I think also if you want to be a good musician and teach well, you’ve got to be a performer. You can’t only talk about it and not do it,” she said.

Moyer performs only on violin these days.

“I used to do a lot of singing, but I gave that up some years ago. It was just too much to do both singing and violin playing. I felt I wasn’t doing my best that way,” she said.

“I do quite a bit of performance. I’m concert master of the Redwood Symphony and assistant concert master of the Masters Sinfonia Chamber Orchestra. A concert master is the principal first violin. You’re supposed to be the leader of the violinists, play whatever solos there are,” she explained.

Moyer enjoys a range of music and was unable to pick one favorite.

“There are different categories. I enjoy orchestra music a great deal and I would say I love some of the unusual repertoire the Redwood Symphony does, not your old war horses. I love Mozart very much. I enjoy chamber music and play in a quartet,” she ‘ said.

The quartet is a group of three from her neighborhood and a fourth who drives in. The group, two violins, a viola and a cello, meets at a member’s home to play for a of few hours. “We don’t at this point give concerts; it’s a recreation thing. Every so often we’ll play at a wedding,” she added. Of course, Moyer is familiar with the ballroom in Ralston Hall from both  sides of the audience.

She has performed there in several capacities and coordinates the concerts held there throughout the year.

Mitchell Klein, music director of the Peninsula Symphony was on the faculty with Moyer for several years.

“She’s terrific. She has a tremendous amount of energy and dedication, and understands and relates to students in a very empathetic way. She’s an excellent musician herself, a very well-rounded musician. I think she’s terrific,” he said.

This article was written by William Cracraft/Freelance News Service and first published in 1998 in the 75th Anniversary Edition tabloid published by Alameda News Paper Group. Any accompanying photos were also taken by William Cracraft. It is reproduced here as a portfolio piece.


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