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Remembering Donald Teeters (1936-2014) Updated


teetersA funeral service will be celebrated on Wednesday, September 3 at 7:30 p.m. at All Saints Church, Brookline.  The address of the church and directions can be found here.  There will be other celebrations of his life and work in October and November.

The recent, very unexpected death of Donald Teeters fills me with profound sadness.

Former Music Director of The Boston Cecilia, former Music Director of All Saints Parish, Brookline, and current Professor of Music at the New England Conservatory, Donald apparently died of heart disease just shy of his 78th birthday, which we were to celebrate—as we do annually on September 2nd—with a lobster dinner in my home in Gloucester.

Donald was a mentor extraordinaire, teaching hundreds of students at the conservatory and coaching countless singers and instrumentalists. One of his many passions was to seek out young, highly gifted musicians, and give them a chance on the Boston stages such as Jordan Hall or Sanders Theatre.

Donald was eclectic in his musical tastes. From Bach to Britten, to Tavener, he loved it all!! And G. F. Handel—I have lost track of the number of Handel oratorios that delighted Boston audiences under Donald’s baton with The Boston Cecilia. He was constantly studying new scores and premiering new works. Most memorable for me were works by Boston composers such as Daniel Pinkham, Scott Wheeler, John Harbison, Donald Martino, James Woodman, and Nicholas White (who succeeded Donald as Music Director of The Boston Cecilia).

On June 8th Donald had just been honored for 47 years of service as Music Director at All Saints Parish, Brookline. He was more than a musician there. Through times of difficulty and times of great joy or sadness, he was there—reliable, steady, guiding, comforting, teaching, playing the organ, planning beautiful liturgies, and conducting one of the finest church choirs in the Boston area. He was a true minister to all.

teeters-pragueFollowing his recent retirement from All Saints Parish, Brookline and The Boston Cecilia, Donald had begun a new and vibrant life. He had been looking forward to serving on the Executive Committee of the Boston Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, teaching at the New England Conservatory, writing reviews of local classical music performances, and working with the new group Opera Brittenica, for whom he conducted The Burning Fiery Furnace in early May.

Recently he returned from a trip to Prague, where he had visited the monuments and graves of Dvorak, Smetana, and many other Czech luminaries. His latest communication was a-glow with excitement. All who knew Donald are in shock that he has departed this life so abruptly. His family is planning a memorial service for sometime this fall at All Saints Parish in Brookline where his ashes will be interred. The date and time has not yet been determined.

What will I miss the most about the man who gave me my opportunity as a 23 year-old grad student at NEC to become his assistant for the then Cecilia Society? His quick wit, his off-the-charts enthusiasm, his superb culinary skills, his sage advice, and conversations that were so engaging they never seemed to end. Donald’s life of kindness, of beauty, and of generosity will be reflected in the tears of all of us who mourn the loss of a life well-lived and well-loved.

Barbara Bruns is Associate Conductor of the Boston Cecilia and Minister of Music at Christ Church, Andover.



34 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. A lovely tribute to a wonderful musician, friend, and mentor to so many. My years with the Cecilia Society (1979-84) were filled with Don’s wit and imagination, his passion for Handel and Britten and everything in between, and his fabulous off-center sense of humor. I looked forward to our occasional encounters on the T, and I’m reeling from his loss. Thanks, Barbara, for your heart-felt words.

    Comment by jaylyn — August 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm

  2. Thanx, Barbara, for this lovely and timely remembrance.

    Don left such an imprint on so many people that his sudden departure from our lives, and from the Boston musical scene, will take a long time to absorb.

    I for one was looking forward to many more of his sensitive and eloquent essays on music. He didn’t think of himself as a writer, but by God, he was — and always worth reading.

    Comment by Richard Knox — August 16, 2014 at 6:08 pm

  3. Thank you, Barbara, for your eloquent words. I will never forget playing continuo for Don’s St. Matthew. Still can’t quite believe the boy from Chickasaw no longer shares the planet. The world is not the same. Christa

    Comment by Christa Rakich — August 16, 2014 at 7:15 pm

  4. Barbara, thank you for writing these beautiful words of tribute.

    Comment by Judy Zuckerman — August 16, 2014 at 10:15 pm

  5. Thank you for this tribute, Barbara. I am still in a shock for the news. I was singing in his choir at All Saints’ while I was a student at NEC, and I can hardly describe how much I learned from him – musicianship, music making, Episcopal liturgy (I had no knowledge), choir repertoire, and care for people. He opened my eyes in so many ways, and I can never thank him enough for that. Without him I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing today, and I’m sure so many people feel the same way.

    Comment by Nami Hamada — August 16, 2014 at 10:22 pm

  6. Thank you, Barbara, for this beautiful & eloquent remembrance of a truly extraordinary man & musician.

    Comment by Steven Lipsitt — August 16, 2014 at 10:33 pm

  7. Dear Barbara,
    Thank you for this. I have been overwhelmed by the news of Don’s passing and you have captured so much if what I have been feeling but unable to put into words.

    Comment by Jane Starkman — August 16, 2014 at 11:24 pm

  8. Barbara, thank you for such a wonderful tribute that captured so much of what was remarkable about Don. Don was one of those people you felt fortunate to know, even if (as was the case with me) our paths did not cross often enough. He was one of those rare individuals who was always delightful company, meaning, not someone who is always cheerful or positive (although he was very often that), but someone who always seemed to be his best self, always seemed very attentive and engaged, could be counted on to bring perspective to any situation. He had that wonderful gift of being able to express firm opinions readily but without any sense of judgment or insinuation. He had an appealing wit that could be fast and sharp but never, in my experience, freighted with anger or vengeance. Above all he seemed to know how to remain really present in all types of situations and interactions. He knew a great deal about music (far beyond that which he performed), and always had something wonderfully thoughtful and considered to say about it. All told a remarkable person indeed, one whose presence, both personally and musically, shall long be missed.

    Comment by Josiah Fisk — August 16, 2014 at 11:29 pm

  9. Don Teeters and Barbara Bruns were and will always be a brilliant team. They got it right in a concert hall or watching the Red Sox; their favorite team of players. Their performances were dynamic and unbelievable in range and stroke of musical gesture. The Saint Matthew Passion at Jordan Hall with the Treble Chorus will ring in my heart forever. You must always agree on the downbeat when working with a musician of such brilliance as Don Teeters. Those life experiences never go away. Don—The angels continue to sing with you in heaven!

    Comment by Marie Stultz — August 17, 2014 at 8:07 am

  10. Thank you for your moving and powerful remembrance, Barbara. You are as excellent a writer as Don was!

    Comment by Jean Knox — August 17, 2014 at 8:56 am

  11. I am shocked and grieved at the loss of a very old friend and mentor.
    I sang in his choir at All Saints Church and in the Boston Cecilia from the beginning of his career. He gave me many opportunities to perform as a soloist and I learned a great deal from his careful guidance. He shared many happy times with those of us who live on the North Shore – cooking, laughing, listening to music, sharing wonderfully eclectic conversations.
    Thank you, Barbara, for a most beautiful remembrance.

    Comment by Anne Kaihlanen — August 17, 2014 at 9:24 am

  12. Like so many others, I am devastated by the death of my beloved friend of 47 years. He encouraged me to do more musically than I ever thought I could. I began singing with him when I was 25 years old – a very long time ago! The things I learned from him have served me well over the years. Thank you, dear friend. RIP.

    Comment by Jane W Van Zandt — August 17, 2014 at 9:44 am

  13. Thank you, Barbara, for this wonderful tribute which expresses Don’s vibrant spirit and musical achievements so beautifully. For over twenty years he was my cherished colleague at All Saints Parish in Brookline where I served as Rector. Among his many gifts, Don was an accomplished church musician and sensitive liturgist. I grieve his death. May he rest in peace.

    Comment by David Killian — August 17, 2014 at 11:19 am

  14. what I will always remember about Don was his passionate caring. He cared about the music, he cared about the musicians. Our personal lives were important to him and he made us all feel part of a deeply valued community. Thank you, Don, for the music we made together.

    Comment by Laura Jeppesen — August 17, 2014 at 11:55 am

  15. Barbara- Thanks for you kind and generous words about Don. And for your many beautiful performances with Cecelia. I knew Don for many years, not only as a colleague at New England Conservatory, but as a diction coach for the Cecelia Society. Don was a choral conductor who not only wanted the correct pronunciation of text, but valued the importance of the word itself, the creation of text which inspired the composer. As many musicians do, he enjoyed talking shop and we had many of these sessions. His opinions were intelligent, considered and governed by his experience of music and the choral literature. I encountered him many times at choral concerts other than his own- he had generous positive comments about his colleagues, His own performances were based on knowledge of the period he was performing and had a great sense of taste (that does not exclude passion). Boston and environs is rich in choral organizations. Don’s leadership was one of the longest and best- how very fortunate we were.

    Comment by Terry Decima — August 17, 2014 at 11:58 am

  16. I add my expression of shock and grief to everyone’s above. The world has lost a great spirit, but he no doubt goes on to greater glory, perhaps to keep the music of the spheres in tune. May God’s faithful servant depart in peace, and may Light Perpetual shine upon him.

    Comment by Laurie Rofinot — August 17, 2014 at 1:04 pm

  17. Dear Barbara and friends of Donald Teeters,

    The year I moved to Boston to study at NEC, Donald was asked to teach some of us. I’ll never forget his response, “I don’t know if I can take students on right now. I invest too much of myself in them.” Like many of you, I came to know his devotion to music and musicians over the decades. He was an energetic and compassionate individual and it showed in his performances. I am very thankful that he has given so much to us in the musical community in New England. Thank you Barbara for being such an important part of his life and work, and for this beautifully written obituary.

    Comment by Richard Bunbury — August 17, 2014 at 5:23 pm

  18. Thank you so much Barbara for these beautiful words about such a wonderful man – we can take solace in the fact that he inspired so many to live their lives in such a way that only the very best will do – he will be missed but not forgotten.
    Peter Krasinski – Dean of the Boston Chapter of the America. Guild of Organist

    Comment by Peter Krasinski — August 18, 2014 at 7:53 am

  19. Thank you, Barbara for sharing these thoughts about Don. I just can’t process that he’s really gone. I can’t imagine how you are feeling. I’m so sorry. How lucky I am to have become a choral singer under his guidance. He made a permanent difference in my life (and even in my young daughter’s life; to her, “conductor” = “Don” and she loved to watch him from time to time during Cecilia rehearsals). Don was a positive presence of stability and happy musicality in my life for 16 years. I will miss him so very much.

    Comment by Jen Hendrey — August 18, 2014 at 10:34 am

  20. Thank you, Barbara for such a lovely tribute to Don. I well remember his audition with Cecilia way back when and it was clear he was perfect to rebuild what was then a struggling but historic chorus. The result is there for all to see. I served on the Board for many years and sometimes was devil’s advocate for his plans, but he was always right on. And although I did begin to wonder if he’d ever run out of Handel oratorios I came to appreciate that when it came time to name several for a Music History placement exam in graduate school. The professor was startled as one or two I came up with that are little known….and I gave Don credit! He taught us all so much about music and singing And I have missed the camaraderie that existed among the members during my many years with the chorus. A rare and influential experience. (Cecilia 1966-1978)

    Comment by Joan Garniss — August 18, 2014 at 11:19 am

  21. It was a shock to lose Don. We knew he was leaving the church and were ready for that – we did not know we would never see him again in this life and that we were not prepared for. We have great memories and have learned so much from him that in many ways he will never leave us – such is the soul of hope.

    Comment by chuck mcvinney — August 18, 2014 at 11:22 am

  22. So many of us have been sharing stories of all kinds, mostly of his sense of humor- even in the midst of shock and sadness- which is truly a tribute to the impact he had on all those around him.

    Donald was a profound and wonderful mentor, and his influence changed the course of my life . Don was warm and kind, and felt like family in a competitive profession. I was so glad he introduced me to “his” Boston- a group of warm and caring singers and musicians who, like Donald, valued people on many levels and showed warmth and kindness to each other and to me. He nurtured so many, and helped me to realize my dreams and potential. I am filled with gratitude for his life, and also deeply saddened by his sudden passing.

    Comment by Jessica Cooper — August 18, 2014 at 9:47 pm

  23. I am deeply saddened to learn of Don’s death. He was not only a superb musician, but one of the good people on earth. Here is just one of many examples. Shortly after I had moved to Boston in 1974, I set out to meet my fellow musicians. Don was by far the warmest and most helpful. He offered some good advice, but most importantly, he made me feel so welcome in this musical community, and was even in the audience when this unknown harpsichordist gave his first harpsichord recital in Boston later that year. I will always remember Don’s kindness, musicianship, intelligence and friendship.

    Comment by Mark Kroll — August 19, 2014 at 6:59 am

  24. Don had his own way of doing things, and took infinite pains, whether writing, conducting, mentoring or being a fine friend. As scrupulous as he was in his own work, he could also see the merits in approaches that did not agree with his own. I’ll never forget how much we enjoyed listening to Jon Vickers in Messiah together.

    He was one of the special ones.

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — August 19, 2014 at 9:25 am

  25. Thank you, Barbara, for your loving tribute to Don. He was filled with so much life and wit that it is hard to believe that he is gone. I am one of the legions of singers, amateur and professional, who became better musicians under his tutelage. He kept us laughing at Boston Cecilia (in between and often in combination with exhortations to sing it better), but he was always serious about the music and our performance. Singing “The Creation” on January 1, 2000 at Jordan Hall, meticulously rehearsed, was one of the great experiences of my life. What better way to welcome the new millennium? I ended the concert with tears of joy. Now, remembering it with gratitude to Don, my tears are mixed.

    Comment by Judith Levine — August 19, 2014 at 2:43 pm

  26. A Man (Musician) for All Seasons! I have never forgotten his admonishment regarding my hymn-playing: “Mary Sue, No Singing while you play hymns, please. You are not there to accompany yourself, but to lead the congregation”. His humor, warmth and spirit of generosity will continue to be a model to me as a church musician.

    Comment by Mary Sue Willie — August 19, 2014 at 2:51 pm

  27. I came to Cecilia at the same time as Don. Making music and working with him for 44 years was such a privilege, such a gift.. Mondays were the best day of the week. I am so sad he has gone. I think about him constantly, and the only solace comes from reading the outpouring of grief and gratitude for his life. Barbara, you said it so well. Thank you.

    Comment by Susanne Potts — August 19, 2014 at 9:27 pm

  28. Thank you, Barbara, for your lovely, heart-felt tribute. I had the tremendous good fortune to sing in the choir at All Saints under Don’s leadership. In my varied choral music experiences over the years, I have never learned and enjoyed myself as much as I did during this time. After extensive church choir “shopping,” I, a self-proclaimed church music snob, knew I’d found my choral home the minute I heard the choir and organ music at All Saints. In addition to his musical expertise, Don had a fabulous sense of humor. One of my favorite Teeters-isms was “This isn’t the Huddersfield Choral Society!” (an enormous English choral group with 200+ members), which he’d declare when we exceeded his desired volume and level of enthusiasm. Don will be greatly missed by musicians and concert-goers alike. Perhaps he and Saint Cecilia herself will share many wonderful moments together.

    Comment by Christie Wyman — August 22, 2014 at 11:04 am

  29. This seems thorough and just, and it is good to recall the Dunn influence:

    Comment by David Moran — August 22, 2014 at 11:20 am

  30. Barbara Bruns’ moving tribute to Don and the comments she has inspired from those who knew him during his All Saints and Cecilia years, have overlooked the relatively brief period in the early ’60s when – as a brand new graduate of the Conservatory – his career was just getting started, as the Music Director at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Wellesley. I was one of the fortunate ones to enjoy his growing musical talents, enthusiasm and warm personality during this period. Even then, it was apparent that Don was destined for an impressive career, and that we should treasure him while he was with us.
    Beyond his church duties, he even found time to participate in our all-male a cappella octet named the Andrews Brothers (what else for a church spin-off?) that performed occasional “gigs” in the area. He was a good friend and fun-loving musical companion for all of us in those years.
    In following Don’s career through the years from other parts of the country, I’ve been fortunate to have a family “pipeline”: my niece Becky Taylor, on the All Saints staff. Thanks, Becky. And, Don, may the angelic choir welcome you with open arms.

    Comment by Richard Miner — August 22, 2014 at 7:53 pm

  31. Barbara,
    thank you so much for such a wonderful tribute to Donald. I only had dinner with him a few weeks ago in Prague here in the Czech capital and as usual he was the life and soul of the dinner and witty as always. I know that he was looking forward to his upcoming 78th birthday and also to his semi-retirement, and was also planning another trip to Prague in October with so much enthusiasm. I honestly am very proud to have known him, he really was one of a kind and will be sorely missed by me and his many other friends here, I am still in complete shock that this happened so suddenly. RIP Donald we have truly lost such a irreplaceable unique character.


    Comment by Willem — August 23, 2014 at 7:56 am

  32. Barbara, this is so perfect. Thank you for writing it.
    I knew Don for 48 years…we met as Tanglewood Fellows in 1966, and my musical life has been so entwined with his over the years. The thing that comforts me is that he lived his life the way he wanted to live it, always, and he did so much for all of us who were his colleagues, and for the world of music. He was a wonderful musician, and a very classy guy.I cannot imagine the world without him in it.

    Comment by Jane Struss — August 24, 2014 at 7:22 pm

  33. Thank you, Barbara.
    I owe Don an enormous amount. This is terribly sad.

    Comment by Adam Grossman — August 25, 2014 at 8:16 pm

  34. Such a moving tribute by Barbara and all of the previous comments, I wish I lucky enough to have had the chance to study with Maestro Teeters and learn from his scholarly preparation, attention to detail and how/why Cecelia always ‘sounded’ so good.
    A truly unique mensch and dedicated student of choral music whose love for choral music has influenced us all and who has left us much too soon. RIP Don

    Comment by Richard Travers — August 28, 2014 at 4:03 pm

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