50 Years Of Orphs

For 22 years, Alice Lipson has said “It’s all about the music.”

With all due respect to the veteran Staples choral director, she’s wrong.

It’s all about the music — and the people.

Alice Lipson, always smiling. (Photo by Lynn U. Miller)

Last night, several hundred people came — from as far away as Florida — to the  Staples auditorium.  They paid tribute to 2 other people who truly are all about the music:  Lipson and her predecessor, George Weigle.

Fifty years ago, Weigle founded Orphenians.  For the past 22 years Lipson has led the elite singing group.  They are the only 2 conductors in its half-century history.

Lipson is retiring this month, so last night was a chance to say thanks — in words and song — to her, to the founder, and to the Orphenians program itself.

The 2 conductors — she still youthful, with her long, flowing trademark braid; he still hale, hearty and commanding in his 80s — walked onstage together, earning a rousing standing ovation.

Lipson put her Orphenians through their paces — a rigorous program (the night after the senior prom!) including motets, Billy Joel tunes and solos, all in a variety of languages.

George Weigle applauds past and present Orphenians. (Photo by Lynn U. Miller)

Professional musicians showed their prodigious talents, making sure to thank that same Staples stage for helping launch their careers.

The entire Peterson family — Brad (Class of ’75), Abby ’76, Katie ’00, Sarah ’04 and Scott ’12 — sang the poignant “Lonesome Road.”  It’s all about the music, indeed — and about passing it along, from generation to generation.

Finally dozens of alumni gleefully mounted the stage.  They — Orphenians from the founding year of 1960, along with members who will continue the tradition next year under Director #3, former Orphenian Justin Miller — performed a rousing rendition of the traditional penultimate number “Ride the Chariot.”

Jon Gailmor -- Staples '66 -- has, like so many former Orphenians, made music his life's work (and joy). (Photo by Lynn U. Miller)

Weigle pronounced it “the loudest” performance of the spiritual he’d ever heard.

“And,” he added, “the most spirited.”

After he “guest conducted” the finale — “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” — alumni, current Orphenians, parents and friends lingered.

They exchanged memories and email addresses.  They hugged.  They looked back on 50 fantastic Orphenian years, and looked ahead to the next 50.

It was all about the music.

And all about the music program that George Weigle started, Alice Lipson nurtured, and they proudly played a part in.

Music, Alice Lipson always stressed, is a family affair. Professional musician Jeff Southworth accompanies his son Alan (Staples '10) on the haunting song "Home." (Photo by Lynn U. Miller)

Alice Lipson conducting the Orphenians for the last time. (Photo by Lynn U. Miller)

9 responses to “50 Years Of Orphs

  1. Stephen Rubin

    Alice Lipson…You gave so much….to so many….for so long. Thank you.

  2. Fran White

    Alice: what a gift you gave to Staples and to the greater community. Thank you and I wish you and your family all the best. Fran White

  3. It was a great night of music and cameraderie and a chance to “hang out” once again with fellow classmates and relive a little of what those special times were like. Thank you also, Dan, for being there and appreciating what the Staples music experience means and has meant to so many. Your heartfelt words captured it all.

  4. Karen Nad Bernstein

    The magic of Orphenians is exactly as Dr. Weigle said it…”some things never graduate.” It was like coming home. Orphenians has and hopefully always will be a uniquely wonderful experience that a group of people who care deeply about the same thing share. When I saw dear friends whom I had not seen in 37 years we simply picked up the conversation we had been having years ago.

    Thank you to all who made this Orph’s evening extraordinary.

  5. Andy Chapo

    I didn’t really know what to expect, and if it weren’t for you, Dan, I may have missed out on a wonderful night of music and catching up with old friends. It was amazing to see so many talented people together at one time. George Weigle and Alice Lipson have meant so much to all current and former Orphenians. I heard several stories that night about how they changed many people’s lives. Thank you for capturing the spirit of a special evening.

  6. Great piece, Dan, and thanks so much for understanding the significance of The Orphenians for all of us. For me, it was my first experience in a small, touring singing group, and the indescribable exhilaration and pleasure I derived from it stuck with me. Singing under George Weigle had a lot to do with my choosing to pursue my musical passion for a living. So thanks George (it’s still a bit awkward to call him that, though he’s kindly given me permission to do so), Dan and Staples for the wisdom of your priorities, and keeping the Arts in the forefront, where they belong.

  7. Alice Lipson

    Dan–Truly an incredible evening of music, memories and joy. Thanks for ALWAYS being there–at concerts, chaperoning trips–for all the ups and the downs the Music department has experienced through the years. All of the most wonderful moments become cherished memories. Your voice has validated and documented some of our MOST memorable times. From the bottom of my heart–Thank you–with love,

  8. Interesting reading, I also been to several Orphenians concerts and they made a huge impression for me, I hope that they will be active for another 50 years 😉

  9. John Mingay '66

    Thanks for such a great article! I had planned to attend the concert, unfortunately I had to change my plans at the last minute and could not attend. However, your article gave me a vision of what it was..just as I had hoped it would be!
    I never had the pleasure of meeting you but I can tell from all the comments by your students and colleagues that you more than filled some “mighty big shoes” when you took over from Dr. Weigle! Thank you for carrying on the tradition!.

    George(a-hem, Dr. Weigle)-
    I am so sad I did not get to see you and sing for you again. You truly are my Mentor and the reason for my love of music and singing!
    God bless you for all you have done and will continue to do! I pray our paths will cross in the near future.

    Justin Miller- Keep the tradition alive!!