Happy 90th, George Weigle!

In his long and storied career as a Staples High School choral teacher, George Weigle influenced thousands of students. 

Barbara Sherburne was one. Today — as her beloved former teacher turns 90 years old — she offers this tribute.

George grew up in Parkersburg, West Virginia. At West Virginia Wesleyan College he spotted a woman from Norwalk, Connecticut named Eleanor, singing in a talent show. He told a friend, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.” It was love at first sight.

George graduated in 1950, 2 years before Eleanor. They married on August 21, 1954. After 63 years, their marriage is still going strong.

George studied for a year at Boston University after college. He taught school in West Virginia, then returned and earned his master’s in 1954 from BU. In 1980, West Virginia Wesleyan presented him with an honorary doctorate.

In 1954, George heard about an opening at Bedford Junior High. He got the job, and after 5 years moved on to Staples High School. He taught there until 1988. Eleanor taught at Bedford Elementary School from 1954 until 1961. Some years later, she began private tutoring.

George Weigle in a classic pose. (Photo courtesy of Ken Lahn)

George started the Orphenians in 1960. He named the group after his Orphenian quartet, led by his college music professor. Of course, Orpheus was a legendary Greek musician.

George continued the Candlelight Concert tradition, begun in 1940 by John Ohanian.

George and Eleanor bought a house on Robin Hill Road. They’ve lived there ever since. George told a fellow Westport music teacher — John Hanulik — about a vacant plot next door. The Hanuliks moved there in 1960, and John lived there until he died. Marie, his wife, still lives there. Having 2 incredible music teachers live next door to each other for so long is amazing.

I was a student at Long Lots Junior High, in a music class taught by Mr. Hanulik. One day, Mr. Weigle came to speak to us about Staples. He seemed very stern, and scared me. Mr. Hanulik had an incredible sense of humor. I thought, “Uh oh.” I needn’t have worried.

George Weigle took the Orphenians around the world — to Austria, Romania, Poland, Spain and many other countries. His first trip was to the Virgin Islands (above) in 1966. (Photo courtesy of Jon Gailmor)

When I was applying to colleges, Mr. Weigle suggested West Virginia Wesleyan. That’s where I went. He wrote me freshman year, “Don’t burn the candle at both ends.” I wound up getting mononucleosis. I guess he saw something coming that I didn’t.

George was also choral director at the United Methodist Church, for 43 years (1954 to 1997). I sang at the Saugatuck Congregational Church, just up the hill from the Methodist Church. George invited me to join his adult choir, when I was still in high school. I’d do both, running down the hill to get to the Methodist Church in time. I sang whenever I could under George’s direction. When my mom passed away in 1978, he was part of the quartet that sang at her service.

I’ve known George for a very long time. We communicated regularly all these years. He frequently sent me cassette tapes of Sunday services at the Methodist Church. He always sent a Christmas card, as did John Hanulik. They often arrived on the same day — and occasionally they chose the same card.

George was like a father figure to me. I have a hard time believing he is 90. You can send cards to him at 10 Robin Hill Road. I’m sure he would appreciate hearing from you. He touched so many lives in so many ways.

————————————————-

Bonus George Weigle feature! In 2004, I interviewed the retired choral director for my book Staples High School: 120 Years of A+ Education. Here are some excerpts:

In 1954 John Ohanian brought me in for an interview. He took me to meet [principal] Norm Flint about an opening at Bedford Junior High. No one told me the kids had driven 3 choral teachers away the previous year, so I took the job.

It was tough. Every morning Eleanor had to push me out the door. Every student had to take general music. My first 9th grade chorus had 50 girls. Gradually it got better. By my 3rd year we had boys singing in the chorus too.

I went to Staples the second year it was open. The only electives the kids were offered were art, music and home ec – not the zillions of courses they have today. John had established the choral program, and I was in the right place at the right time. It was a popular group, and I had the junior highs feeding me. Looking back, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was.

The Candlelight Concert is timeless. George Weigle directed these choir members in 1981 — as he did for 39 years.

We gave 4 Candlelight Concerts each year. I’d get called in between performances, and reamed out – maybe I didn’t interpret a piece of music as I should have. Looking back, I realize John was right.

He put me on a path, and guided me. I in turn demanded excellence from my students. I realize now that students understood what excellence was.

The program grew, and so did its reputation. The harder the music, the better they performed – and the more they wanted. I gave them stuff I didn’t think high school kids could do, like John Corigliano’s “L’Invitation au Voyage.” It’s an extended piece, very contemporary, a cappella with duos and solos. Paul McKibbins’ “Psalm 67,” which he wrote and dedicated to me and the Orphenians, was the second most difficult piece.

At the time I did not realize what we were doing, level-wise. Now I wonder how I taught it, and how they memorized it – extended stuff like Handel’s “Coronation Anthems.”

In 1960-61 I started a small group: Orphenians. We had auditions, and selected 24 to 28 singers. We met once a week after school at first, then twice a week. We did lose some of the guys to sports.

From its small beginning, George Weigle’s Orphenians grew enormously. In 2010, the elite group celebrated its 50th anniversary.

In 1966 we went to St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands, and in 1972 to France, Austria and Italy. We came in second in a choral festival in Italy. If I knew then what I know now, we would have been first. I didn’t recognize shadings of dynamics. From then on, I paid attention to it. We lost to a group from Oklahoma that met five days a week.

In 1975 we went to Romania. That was an adventure! A very poor country, with very friendly people. We had to be careful what we sang.

In 1978 we went to Poland. That was our first outdoor program. We sang the Polish national anthem. Afterward they told us that might have been too nationalistic.

In 1981 we went to Belgium, France, Germany, Holland and Switzerland. On July 4th we sang at Notre Dame – it was filled with Americans. They asked us to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which we’d never prepared. It went off okay.

In 1983 we went to Spain. We sang concerts to packed halls at 10 p.m. – it was still light. And in 1985 we went to England, Wales and Scotland.

In 2010 — the 50th anniversary of Orphenians — George Weigle guest conducted the current elite group in the finale, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Westport was growing, building schools, becoming more affluent. Parents wanted their kids to be in touch with the arts — not just academics. The quality of teachers was so high, because of who John hired – and fired. He made sure the right teachers were at the right levels. As a result kids attracted other kids, and it all just blossomed. Quality led to more quality. It was all because of John’s dream and perseverance.

I think students – particularly at the high school – need the arts, in order to be enhanced and broadened. Here in Westport we’ve got doctors and lawyers who have been exposed to the arts. Westport people perform, and they’re concertgoers, and they see plays. The arts are so important to a rounded personality. Singing and playing with other people is so important. You don’t always realize when you’re in high school how meaningful it is. Sometimes it takes decades to sink in. But it does. It does.

A lot of high schools have music. But not many have music at the level of Westport.

Everyone who ever sang for George Weigle remembers the experience. Jon Gailmor, who still writes, performs and teaches, offered these thoughts.

I was in the Class of 1966 at Staples. I was immersed in the performing arts, and they shaped my every waking moment in high school.

Jon Gailmor (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

With the Orphenians, I got my first taste of the power of music. I’ll never forget watching the faces of school kids in the Virgin Islands as we wailed away. And I remember watching senior citizens in Norwalk and Bridgeport being moved both to tears and guffaws by our songs. In the Staples a cappella choir and boys’ glee club, I experienced the indescribable joy of making a large, harmonious sound and filling auditoriums with its beauty.

I loved a lot of things about Staples, but it was music where I really found out who I was and where my passion lay.

I know quite a few fellow high school performers whose lives have been similarly sparked by our unforgettable musical experiences at Staples.

Today I make and perform my own music, while helping other folks discover their creativity through songwriting residencies. I can honestly thank those three amazing years with George Weigle and my Staples brothers and sisters for the enormous role they played in helping me find my passionate life’s work.

40 responses to “Happy 90th, George Weigle!

  1. Debbie Wilson Hoult

    I performed Bach’s amazing B-minor Mass on Saturday and that is a direct legacy of Mr Weigle. My first of many Hallelujah choruses was under his baton in 1970. I was fortunate to be an Orphenian and travel to the festival in Graz, Austria and then to Venice. What a wonderful life of music I’ve had due to Mr Weigle. Thank you!

  2. Happy Birthday Dr. Weigle!

  3. Happy Birthday Mr. Weigle! I was in the class of ‘66 and participated in glee club—I loved singing but wasn’t very good. To this day, The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah brings me to tears…we so loved performing it under your care & direction.

  4. Happy Birthday, Dr Weigle! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to tour England, Scotland and Wales and for teaching us never to settle for mediocrity.

  5. Happiest of birthdays to you Mr. Weigle– thank you for all you have given to so many fortunate students throughout the years!!! With deep respect and admiration, Steve Emmett ’66

  6. Barbara / Dan, Thank you for sharing this background on George Weigle.

  7. Love hearing all this background information! I was in girls glee and sophomore chorus. My arts education at Staples was a crucial part of my life….I taught art for more than 30 years. Still remember going to a Candlelight concert long after graduation and being moved to tears as we all stood up in the audience and sang along to the Hallelujah chorus. Happy birthday Mr. Weigle and thanks for encouraging everyone to do their best!

  8. Happy 90th, Mr. Weigle! Bravo! Making music at Staples was one of the great formative experiences in my youth. Still playing (oboe) 50 years later. Many thanks. Scott Brodie (Staples ’70; Orphs ’68-’70).

  9. I too wish Dr. Weigle a very happy and blessed 90th birthday. I can still remember music class at BJH and learning to pronounce the words to a song correctly and practicing “e a u” until we got it. At Staples in 1960, there was Mr. Weigle and we all just continued in a girls glee club with the highlight singing in the Hallelujah Chorus at the end of the Candle Light Concert. I even have LPs that were produced after each concert (back in the day). Thank you for your caring dedication.

  10. I first knew George Weigle as the music director at United Methodist church, where my mother sang in the choir. The wonderful music he organized at the church definitely helped this young boy get through those Sunday morning church services! Then later on, of course, I knew him as a Staples student.

    Years later, I was out riding my motorcycle in Town and my registration had, unknown to me, gotten loose and ended up on the side of the road. I was back at my own home in Town, standing around the driveway, when George Weigle and his daughter pulled in – he had found my registration papers on the road (sharp eyes!), and brought them to the address shown, saying “I knew a woman named Sally Whittle years ago, she sang in the choir at the Methodist Church, are you any relation . . . ” My mother had passed away by then, and we had a nice time reminiscing about her. He was a kind man.

  11. Happy 90th, George! The halls of your church are still alive with the sound of music you made!

  12. Barbara Sherburne '67

    I love the photos you chose, Dan! Great comments from everyone, but I love the story by Jack Whittle. There were a lot of songs we performed that were very difficult, and one I can think of is The Creation, which included a narrator, and I think it was Ed Bryce. We wrote a parody of that song and performed it on June 15, 1966 for Mr. Weigle. It was quite funny. These are the opening lines: And George stepped out on space,
    And he looked around and he said,
    “I’m lonely. I’ll make me a choir.”
    Happy 90th birthday, George!

    • Thanks, Barbara, but I sure couldn’t have done this without you. Your love and respect for George shines through strongly. I’m glad we could give him this 90th birthday “gift.”

  13. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Mr. Weigle, singing for you in Choir and Orphenians remains the single most positive experience (of many, but no contest in your case) of my three years at Staples. You gave us discipline at a time when it was in short supply, you gave us warmth and security at a time of great social turmoil, you gave us harmony (a double entendre) when polarization was the norm and most importantly, you brought us all together, if even for a small portion of the day. I remember taking my new wife to a Staples concert during your last year (I think it was 1987 or 1988) ) and being greeted warmly and with evident familiarity many years after my 1970 graduation. May you live 90 more years and if that doesn’t happen, have no doubt of the love, affection and respect that you have given and received to so many blessed by knowing you and given the opportunity to rise to your challenge.
    Highest Regards and Happiest of Birthdays,
    Eric Buchroeder – Sophomore Chorus, Boys Glee, A Capella.Choir and Orphenians ’67 -’70

  14. James Ernest Kyle

    My family moved to Westport in 1956 when I was in the 9th grade. I went from a freshman (9th grade) in high school in the south to 9th grade in a junior high in Westport – at Bedford Junior High. Mr. Weigle taught there at the time. The following summer, in Mr. Ohanian’s summer music program I took private trombone lessons from Mr Weigle. He didn’t move to Staples until after I graduated, but I sang in his Methodist Choir all through high school – a very educational experience. He did have my brother and two younger sisters in choirs at Staples and the two sisters were in the Orphenians in 1972 (the group that went to France, Austria and Italy). The Weigles were very good friends with my parents for many years in the Methodist Church. I just want to wish Mr. Weigle a very happy 90th birthday and say hello to his wonderful wife. Jim Kyle

  15. Brad Peterson class of '75

    I too, was deeply inspired by George and his passionate teaching style. I sang in boys glee, and he asked me to join the choir mid-year which I considered an honor because it was an auditioned group. From there I auditioned for Orphs. I made All-State Chorus as a senior, and of course went to Romania touring for three weeks that summer. What an amazing experience. I can relate to Jon Gailmore’s comments regarding my first time experiencing singing in a large group harmonizing, and singing quality music. I can still remember how cool it sounded to be inside the sound. I graduated from college as a music ed major and spent 38 years teaching music in Monroe. It’s because of his influence that I entered music education, and his techniques and passion for music instruction have rubbed off on me as well. Every year my family has a traditional caroling party, and we have always made it a point to stop to sing at 10 Robin Hill Rd. as a tribute to one of our favorite teachers.
    Happy Birthday George!
    God Bless You!

  16. Happy Birthday, George! Choir and Players are what I remember fondly about Staples. I rejoined a choir 40 years later and realized how much George had taught me (and how much I missed). One memory – in fall 1964 , my junior year, the Sophomore Chorus was short of tenors so Mr. Weigle asked anyone with a free period to help out. I ended up singing 1st tenor with chorus, 2nd tenor with the Boys Glee Club and baritone with the Choir.

  17. Happy Happy 90th Birthday Mr Weigle. You were and are the best. I so enjoyed choir during my high school years. So many happy memories! Best Regards, Wanda Gupton Tedesco

  18. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    Happy 90th Birthday Mr. Weigle. I learned how to sing harmony from you when I was at Staples (Class 0f ’67) and to this day I sing in my church choir. I was definitely not in the Orphenians – maybe just the Glee Club but I remember you made it so much fun to sing. I became a proud alto (I know, that is redundant) at Staples and thank you so much for your teaching and instilling in me a life long love of music.

  19. Carissa Simon Baker

    Happiest of birthdays to my favorite teacher! Mr. Weigle, at 65 years old now, I look back upon those years learning to sing with you, making beautiful music with my friends, creating something so grand, and am filled with gratitude. You gave us all so very much in teaching us to be disciplined singers. And I am forever grateful to you for realizing I was NOT an alto, but a first soprano. Still singing and thinking of you, with tremendous love and thanks in my heart.
    Class of “71
    Carissa Simon Baker

  20. Melissa Mangano Davidson

    Happy birthday, Dr. Weigle. I only got to sing with you for a year before your retirement, but you made the Candlelight concerts so special that I auditioned for Choir on a lark because I wanted to hold a candle in that concert! That audition and joining the Sophomore chorus got me started on decades of choral experiences that have taken me around the world to perform in some amazing venues. If it weren’t for your encouragement and enthusiasm, and your incredible choral program at Staples High School, I would have missed out on some amazing musical opportunities that have shaped much of who I am today. Thank you!

  21. Happy 90th Mr. Weigel. Here’s to many more. You did so much more than teach us. You inspired us. From early music madrigals to the brilliance of Norman Dello Joio you challenged us to make excellent choral music. You showed us that many of us have an instrument that doesn’t require amps, mics, PA systems or vans; our voices. You were a comfort to me in Fall of my junior year when I was trying to cope with the loss of my Dad. You supported me to officership in the Glee Club and you continued to lead our Orphenians group with a critical ear and love for the music that you shared so freely. When I arrived in New Haven the next year, I made a bee-line for singing group rush. When I was tapped into the Whiffenpoofs of 1973 a few years later, I had you to thank. That same Whiff group is gathering here in NYC this coming weekend to tighten up for our
    45th Yale Reunion in May. Thank you for sharing your love of a cappella music. Marc Bailin. (Orchestra/Band 1967-1969; Glee Club 1967-1969;
    Orphenians 1967-1969)

  22. We left Westport after I was in 8th grade (1962), so I never had Dr. Weigle. I did have John Hanulick, both in Burr Farms School and Long Lots Jr. High. And I had Marie Schubert as my 4th grade teacher, the year Burr Farms opened. That was when she met John Hanulick and they married at the end of the year. I remembered Mr. Trevino and Mr. Heard as my Cello teachers as well as Mr. Genualdi at Long Lots. There was also a music teacher–Mrs. Reynolds, I had at Greens Farms before Burr Farms opened.
    John Kelley (would have been ’66).

  23. Thomas Lehn SHS 1985

    Happy Birthday Dr. Weigle! I’m happy to add my most heartfelt and congratulatory wishes here. Like many others, my experiences with Staples choir and Orphenians were truly extraordinary. I too was one of the group that went to the UK in 1985. It is true what you said that students recognize what excellence is. All of us who got to spend time under your patient and gentle but exacting leadership would most certainly agree that you sir and your legacy are the very essence of excellent. Thank You Dr. Weigle.

  24. Happy 90th, Dr. Weigle. Music and singing is my life and you were such an important part of my journey. Thank you!

  25. I wish I had some singing ability. I know what a wonderful experience my friends/classmates had, as exemplified by Carissa’s comment above.

  26. Maureen Gupton Violano

    Happiest of Birthdays ever Mr. Weigle!!!! I was in Choir 1970, 71 and 72. Thank you so much for giving me the best memories of my high school years. I will never forget the feeling of walking down the auditorium aisle under candlelight to “Sing We Noel”. Best Wishes.

  27. Happy birthday, Dr. Weigle. I am in my 30th year as an instrumental music teacher. When I go out on a limb with my kids in what I ask of them and myself musically; I always think of your example–constantly challenging us to learn more interesting and difficult repertoire. Not many adults made an impact on me growing up but you did. Thanks over and over. Choir, Orphenians, All State, ’65.

  28. Kathleen Crowe

    Happy Birthday Dr. Weigle. You were such a positive influence in my life and helped to foster my love for music and singing. I have so many wonderful memories of being in the Staples choir 1980- 1982!

  29. Dale Eyerly Colson

    The happiest of birthdays to one of very best of men!

    I first met you in the 7th grade at BJHS and stalked you doggedly from that moment until my graduation from Staples in 1963, singing whenever and wherever you would let me. You never knew it, but you were largely responsible for my being able to deal with all the angst of adolescence. Just knowing that you were there often gave me the courage that I couldn’t muster on my own.

    I was followed by my sister, Beth Eyerly, and a generation later by my daughter, Amanda Colson. The joy to be found in music that you shared with us has followed us over all the years and added wonderful dimensions to all our lives.

    Simply put, you da BEST!
    Dale Eyerly Colson

  30. Catherine Calise

    Happy Birthday Mr. Weigle!! Singing in the Staples Choir under your direction is such a cherished experience & memory for me!! I still remember that day looking at the list posted outside your music room door that I made it!! How special & I learned so much!! Thank you for your expertise, patience & gift of music you gave all of us singing for you at Staples!!
    Catherine Calise
    Staples ‘79

  31. Margaret Hart Rynshall

    God bless you and Happy Birthday, Dr Weigle! Singing for you in choir and Orphenians was such an incredibly rich and rewarding experience. You pushed us to excel with challenging works like “Carmina Burana” but mixed it with fun and traditional pieces too. It was never boring, it was a sanctuary, and I hope you realize how much you influenced a bunch of high school kids for the rest of their lives. Thank you for that and for all the wonderful, musical memories too long to list!

  32. Becki Whittington

    Happy 90th Mr. Weigle! You were such a great teacher! You let us sing, even though some of us were not as talented as others. You welcomed us into Girls Glee! I find myself singing parts of songs from our concerts. You’re the best!

  33. Dr. Weigle, I remember the Choir — and the Barbershop Quartet — serenading you on your birthday! Your outstanding choral program inspired me from elementary school, when I set my sights on becoming an Orphenian. That life goal not only brought phenomenal musical opportunities, it also inspired my college application essay along with a phenomenal trip to Spain. Singing has remained a constant in my life since then (see my website for the latest venture!) and I often am reminded of your correction and feedback. Happy, happy birthday to you!

  34. A very Happy 90th Birthday Mr. Weigle !
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your illustrious career and influence in Staples music program. Both of my daughters enjoyed singing with the Orphenians under the stellar leadership of Allison Leeoson. Sincere thanks for having started this prestigious singing ensemble in 1960!
    As usual, thanks Dan for posting this informative tribute to a wonderful man!

  35. Sharon Paulsen

    Wow, loved this article! Thanks Dan/Barbara.

    Happy birthday Dr. Weigle!

    Your name and the Hallelujah Chorus/Candlelight concerts are synonymous in my book!

    One year (might have been 1985), a small group of us chorus/choir members (might have been a few Orph’s with us too … vague memory, LOL) decided to surprise-serenade your house with Christmas carols, one chilly December eve.

    What amazing memories! You were exceptional and adored.

    (Sharon Paulsen, Staples class of 1986)

  36. Happy birthday, Dr. Weigle! I’m a 1983 graduate of Staples. I sang in the girls’ glee club and later the chorus (but couldn’t make it into Orphenians), and I took a “voice class” with you as well. I so enjoyed singing under your direction and performing in the Candlelight Concerts. It is the rare teacher who can make such a positive impact, on so many students, and over such an extended period of time. Thank you for your dedication to us all!

  37. God bless Mr. Weigle and sing on. To this day I continue to be inspired by you and everything I do I spent three seasons with turtle Creek chorale in Dallas Texas and every time our conductor would raise his hands I would think of you I am still the second Tenor that you nurtured so many years ago I sing all the time whether it is for the enjoyment of myself my family or others T.j.Zottola Jr. Class of 69

  38. Colin Campbell

    Wonderful memories! I was an Orph in 1967 & 1968 (unfortunately, the two years the group didn’t travel!). My older sister Dana (‘66) was an Orphenian and also played violin in the orchestra under Robert Genualdi, and went to the Virgin Islands.
    I hold fond memories of the choral music program under Mr. Weigle, and. it was wonderful to come across this article. Hearty birthday wishes, Mr. Weigle, and many more to come! — and MANY THANKS for your amazing dedication to so many young lives

    • T.J. Zottola Jr. '69

      Bravo Colin , You are saying what anyone who knew Mr Weigle Feels . T.J. Zottola Jr. Orphenian Tenor 2 Class of 69 .

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