Heinz Chapel Choir director to retire after twenty-five years of service

Heinz Chapel Choir director to retire after twenty-five years of service

By Meagan Hart / Staff Writer

After giving 25 years of service to the Heinz Chapel and Pitt, choir director and music lecturer John Goldsmith, 68, has decided to retire.

“I’m ready,” Goldsmith said. “I’m proud of what I’ve done, but I’m ready to travel around the world with my wife.”

Goldsmith has every reason to be proud. As the sole director of the choir, he has prepared the singers, who are undergraduate Pitt students, for concert season every December, organized and administrated choir programs and served as the adviser for music majors at Pitt. 

In his 25 years, he has gone on nine international tours in 26 different countries — his trip to the Balkan Peninsula in southeast Europe this summer will be his 10th and final. Pictures of Goldsmith with the choir members in different parts of the world hang around his office.

Goldsmith gives the credit for his success to his more than 50 choir members, of which only two are music majors.

“This means that the kids want to be here and are doing what they love,” Goldsmith said. “Singing in the choir isn’t a requirement. It’s what they love to do. That’s what makes this so great.” 

Charlie Schade, a sophomore majoring in marketing and supply chain management, said the choir endearingly calls Goldsmith by his initials, J.G.

“Sometimes our memorization isn’t up to par in the weeks before a concert, and J.G.’s genuine personality comes out,” Schade said. “During these times, you realize just how much he cares about the choir and the success of the choir. That quietly motivates you.”

For Goldsmith, the singers’ performances from memorization alone is one of the choir’s trademarks.

“With a piano, you just have to press the right keys and the sound is right. The same thing with a trumpet. But with memorizing songs, it’s all in here,” Goldsmith said, pointing to his ears. “The audience is very impressed when the choir performs without sheet music.”

The choir is also one of the last university choirs in the country to sing purely a capella — without instruments or other background music — and according to Goldsmith, the choir sings a wide variety of styles.

According to Goldsmith, the group has sung a cappella renditions of Beatles songs, folk songs, jazz, madrigals, motets, love songs and sacred and secular music from around the world.

Emily Collins, the choir’s president, has been a member of the choir for four years and attributes her shift in personality to her involvement.

“I joined my freshman year, when I was a much shyer and much quieter version of the person I am today,” Collins, a senior majoring in nutrition and dietetics, said. “Being in choir definitely brought me out of my shell.”

According to Collins, there is no cost to join the choir. Women only have to purchase the dresses used in performances, and men must buy a tuxedo if they do not already own one. 

Goldsmith said the choir receives donations from singers’ families, alumni and allocations from the Student Government Board, which pays for music, supplies, van rentals and other things. 

Janet Sarbaugh, the senior program director of the Arts and Culture Program of the Heinz Endowments, said the endowments contributed $30,000 to the choir within the past year to pay for international tour scholarships for the members.

“We are great supporters of the choir program,” Sarbaugh said. “They go on wonderful international tours, and it’s an all-around great community.”

In addition, all of the money earned from selling tickets to the choir’s Christmas concert goes to scholarships that will help choir members pay for international tour expenses.

Although the choir performs various concerts throughout the year, its bi-weekly rehearsals and bi-annual choir camps are dedicated primarily to the four holiday concerts performed each December and the annual invitation-only concert that Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg hosts.

Schade’s favorite choir memory happened last week, when Goldsmith directed his final concert in the Heinz Chapel to a standing ovation for the director’s “hard work and dedication to making the choir what it is today.”

“There were so many alumni who came back, and it was so humbling to see all these people coming home to see J.G. off into retirement,” Schade said.

During his 25-year tenure as choir director, Goldsmith said students and their dedication — which is often four hours a week — have meant the most to him. 

“They just make the chapel ring with beautiful music,” Goldsmith said. “This is a one-of-a-kind deal, and I got it.”