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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)

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