Starting on a high note: New choir director inspires students through music
De Lyser conducts the University Singers as they rehearse songs from Hamilton.
Choir Director David De Lyser doesn’t like to talk about himself, but ask him about his students and his eyes immediately light up. He's always happy to talk about his choir students and their accomplishments.
De Lyser, who is the director of Choral Activities and an associate professor of music at UP, loves a lot of things about his job. But if he had to choose his favorite thing about working at UP, the answer is simple.
“The students. Absolutely,” De Lyser said.
De Lyser joined the University of Portland faculty in 2010. After serving as the orchestra conductor for eight years, he became the director of the SATB choir, University Singers, in the fall of 2018.
Music has always been a big part of De Lyser’s life. Growing up in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota, his love of music began when he started singing and playing trumpet in grade school. He was involved in almost every musical activity at school including the jazz band, choir and orchestra. When he graduated high school, De Lyser was certain he wanted to pursue music as a professional career.
“There was never really a question that I would go on to be a music major,” De Lyser said. “It was just a question of where I was going to go to.”
De Lyser went on to complete his bachelor's degree in music at Minnesota State University and completed his masters in composition and conducting at the University of Portland in 2001. He liked how the faculty at UP treated masters students more like colleagues than students, which helped him form close relationships with the faculty — some of whom are his colleagues now. After receiving his masters, De Lyser obtained his doctorate in conducting and music theory and composition from the University of Northern Colorado.
When applying for jobs in 2010, De Lyser was drawn to UP because of its size. He went to a large undergraduate university, and he says that if he could to do it again, he would have gone to a much smaller school.
“It’s so easy to get lost in a big school,” De Lyser said. “I didn’t want to teach in a big school like that for the same reasons. I wanted a small place where I can get to know the students pretty well.”
While working with the orchestra, De Lyser also conducted a choir outside of UP. He said that over the last five years, he's become more involved with the choral world, although leaving the orchestra was a difficult decision for him.
Being a teacher was something he always wanted to do. Growing up, De Lyser had a few mentors that inspired him and his love for music. His seventh-grade choir teacher was the one who convinced him to sing in a chamber group, which had a large influence on his love for singing. His high school band director had a big impact on him and his trumpet playing, and encouraged De Lyser to become a music major in college.
Now, as a teacher, De Lyser tries to show the same support and encouragement for his students. Natalie Werner, a senior music major and conducting associate of the choir, is one of those students. She said that De Lyser is the reason she applied for graduate school in choral conducting.
“Dr. De Lyser has inspired me to not only be the best musician I am capable of being, but also the best person,” Werner said. “He, along with his colleagues, is the reason I chose this school, but more importantly, the reason why I am still at this school...In my future, if I end up being even half the professional that he is, I will feel extremely accomplished.”
UP's choir, University Singers, consists of 53 students that meet three times a week. To join the choir, students must audition and enroll in a one-credit music course. Many students think that the class is only for music majors, but De Lyser says it’s open to any student who loves to sing.
“I think the choir is a really special group of people that get to come together in a really intimate, safe space, and make this beautiful music together,” De Lyser said. “It’s a place to do something very different from what you do in a normal classroom. It’s a way to be creative together and create something that none of us could do on our own and it’s just so powerful.”
For many students, University Singers isn’t just a one-credit course; it’s a place to call home and serves as an escape from the stress of college life.
“It’s a place to forget all your troubles and focus on people that surround you and the art that we are trying to create,” Henderson said.
Even though De Lyser has been conducting University Singers for less than a year, the group has come together as a community and already share some great memories together. In January before the start of the semester, the choir went on a five-day tour in Eastern Washington.
While on the tour, the choir went snow tubing and ended up in a tubing race. One of the students was going too fast and slammed into De Lyser, knocking him in the face and off of his tube.
“After a panicked few minutes of trying to figure out if he had lost any teeth, or if any damage had been done to his face, he got back up and started dragging his tube back up the hill,” Werner said. “I turned and said, ‘So are you tapping out now?’ — to which his response was ‘Nah, I have a few runs left in me!’”
De Lyser’s sense of humor and the love he has for his work are just two reasons why his students love him so much.
“His care for his students extends far beyond the classroom—so much so, that he never seems to stop working,” Werner said. “His passion for music is evident, but what truly shines through is the joy he gets from passing on that sense of devotion to his students and helping them reach their true potential.”
Currently, De Lyser, the University Singers and Bel Canto are preparing for an event called “The Best of Broadway,” where they will sing choral arrangements of Broadway songs from “Chicago,” “Hamilton,” “Into the Woods,” and more.
University Singers is a special community for De Lyser, and he hopes that more students will join in the future.
“My hope and my goal is to build a choir here that will become recognized regionally if not nationally,” De Lyser said. “And that students come to the University of Portland not only to study but to sing in this choir.”
Anush Hakobyan is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.